American lynch mobs never die; they only become more self-righteous about their savagery. [9/28/09]
Postscript: Some readers of the above have asked me for some elaboration. By way of partial explanation, I can offer both an op-ed article by Robert Harris in the New York Times and my own briefer statement for the Times‘ Room for Debate blog. And, to quote myself again, from Richard Roeper’s blog: “I’m not claiming that artists deserve any special privileges of any kind. But if Polanski wasn’t famous, he wouldn’t have been arrested in Switzerland in the first place. The only reason why anyone’s writing about him now is because he’s famous. Focusing on a crime 30-odd years ago, however reprehensible, when so many other and bigger and more recent crimes are around and relevant (and unpunished) sounds to me like hysteria/exploitation/journalism/sensationalism/ entertainment — anything but impartial justice.” [10/2/09]… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 2002). — J.R.
In Laurent Cantet’s 1999 French feature, written with Gilles Marchand, a student at a Paris business school returns home to Normandy to intern at the factory where his father has worked for 30 years. When the son and other workers go on strike and the antiunion father is let go, the son finds himself and his father on opposite sides of the fence. This sharp, convincing, and utterly contemporary political film calls to mind some of Ken Loach’s work, full of passion as well as precision. Cantet’s subsequent film, L’Emploi des Temps (Time Out), a prizewinner in Venice, shows an even more masterful grasp of the business world and all that it entails. This filmmaker is definitely someone to get acquainted with. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (March 3, 2006). — J.R.
This bold departure by French director Laurent Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out) follows three middle-aged Americans (Karen Young, Charlotte Rampling, Louise Portal) whose vacations in Haiti during the brutal reign of Baby Doc Duvalier include encounters with male prostitutes. Cantet is concerned not only with the women’s psychologies and complex interrelations as they compete for the same local hunk (Menothy Cesar) but also with the global economics at work. The film tackles more than it can master, but it’s never less than fascinating, and all three leads are exceptional. Screenwriter Robin Campillo adapted three short stories by Dany Laferriere. In English and subtitled French and Creole. 106 min. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (February 23, 2001). — J.R.
This exciting existentialist road movie by Monte Hellman, with a swell script by Rudolph Wurlitzer and Will Corry and my favorite Warren Oates performance, looks even better now than it did in 1971, although it was pretty interesting back then as well. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson are the drivers of a supercharged ’55 Chevy and Oates is the owner of a new GTO (these nameless characters are in fact identified only by the cars they drive); they meet and agree to race from New Mexico to the east coast, though side interests periodically distract them, including various hitchhikers (among them Laurie Bird). (GTO hilariously assumes a new identity every time he picks up a new passenger, rather like the amorphous narrator in Wurlitzer’s novel Nog.) The movie starts off as a narrative but gradually grows into something much more abstract — it’s unsettling but also beautiful. 101 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown; film scholar Hank Sartin will introduce the film and give a lecture after the screening. Gene Siskel Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, February 27, 6:00, 312-443-3737.
— Jonathan Rosenbaum
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Written for a Sara Driver retrospective at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, held in early November 2011. — J.R.
All four of Sara Driver’s works belong to what the French call la fantastique — a conflation of fantasy with surrealism, science fiction, comics, horror, sword-and-sorcery, and the supernatural that stretches all the way from art cinema to exploitation by way of Hollywood. But it’s hard to find many other stylistic affinities between them, and only a few thematic overlaps. A 48-minute piece of Poelike horror set inside the mind of a schizophrenic in rural New Jersey (You Are Not I, 1981), closely adapted from a Paul Bowles story; a pulpy, scary feature-length fantasy about Oriental curses set over a few blocks in lower Manhattan (Sleepwalk, 1986); a gentle, nonscary comedy partly inspired by the whimsical 1937 Hollywood feature Topper, about the encounter between a jazz musician and two female ghosts in a small seaport town (When Pigs Fly, 1993); and a short documentary about the history and diverse arcane local details of Driver’s own neighborhood (The Bowery, 1994), which also served as the setting for the very different Sleepwalk.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t various connections between these works going well beyond the recurrence of various collaborators.… Read more »
This appeared in the November 1974 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. The ironic aftermath of the final sentence in my review is that another five years would pass before the release of Malick’s second feature, and then 20 more before the release of his third. — J.R.
U.S.A., 1973 Director: Terrence Malick
It would hardly be an exaggeration to call the first half of Badlands a revelation -– one of the best literate examples of narrated American cinema since the early days of Welles and Polonsky. Compositions, actors, and lines interlock and click into place with irreducible economy and unerring precision, carrying us along before we have time to catch our breaths. It is probably not accidental than an early camera set-up of Kit on his garbage route recalls the framing of a neighborhood street that introduced us to the social world of Rebel Without a Cause: the doomed romanticism courted by Kit and dispassionately recounted by Holly immediately evokes the Fifties world of Nicholas Ray -– and more particularly, certain Ray-influenced (and narrated) works of Godard, like Pierrot le fou and Bande à part. Terrence Malick’s eye, narrative sense, and handling of affectless violence are all recognizably Godardian, but they flourish in a context more easily identified with Ray.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 21, 1988). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Mike Leigh
With Philip Davis, Ruth Sheen, Edna Dore, Philip Jackson, Heather Tobias, Leslie Manville, David Bamber, Jason Watkins, and Judith Scott.
One of the most interesting things about Mike Leigh’s up-to-the-minute bulletin from Thatcher England is its title. Because this wonderful English movie is partly a comedy, and because it’s very much about the way that Londoners live nowadays, one would assume a title like High Hopes is ironic. Among most of my English friends, the expectations currently expressed about their country’s future couldn’t be much lower; and at first glance, there’s nothing in this movie to contradict their pessimism.
But take a second look at Leigh’s movie — which is sharp and funny and broad enough to warrant it — and you might find some reason for revising this opinion. England is after all a country of survivors, and one of the best ways of surviving in extreme situations (say, the London blitz) is to assume the worst and start from there. That’s what the leading characters and heroes of High Hopes do, a very charismatic, funky post-hippie couple named Cyril (Philip Davis) and Shirley (Ruth Sheen).… Read more »
The following was published in the Chicago Reader on March 25, 1988. Criterion’s exquisite new edition of The Color of Pomegranates (see below) has prompted this reposting, even though a good many of the details, including the title, are now out of date. — J.R.
THE FILMS OF SERGEI PARADJANOV
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
There are few people of genius in the cinema; look at Bresson, Mizoguchi, Dovzhenko, Paradjanov, Bunuel: not one of them could be confused with anyone else. An artist of that calibre follows one straight line, albeit at great cost; not without weakness or even, indeed, occasionally being farfetched; but always in the name of the one idea, the one conception. –- Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time
After 15 years of enforced inactivity, the greatest living Soviet filmmaker is finally back at work again, but it’s astonishing how little we still know about him––about his art, his life, or even his name. You won’t find him in Ephraim Katz’s Film Encyclopedia or in the indexes of books by Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffman, or John Simon (among others), and as far as I know, no one anywhere has ever written a book or monograph about him.
Roughly the first half of his oeuvre, made between 1958 and 1962, has never been exported.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 23, 2002). — J.R.
In spite of its reputation, and thanks in part to Faye Dunaway’s remarkable performance as Joan Crawford, this 1981 adaptation of Christina Crawford’s memoir about her driven, abusive mother is arguably too good to qualify as camp, even if it begins (and fitfully proceeds) like a horror film. Director Frank Perry, who collaborated with three others (including producer Frank Yablans) on the script, gives it all a certain crazed conviction. With Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, and, as Louis B. Mayer, Howard da Silva. PG, 129 min. (JR)
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From Monthly Film Bulletin, June 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 497). — J.R.
Caso Mattei, Il (The Mattei Affair) Italy, 1972
Director: Francesco Rosi
27 October, 1962. The private plane of Enrico Mattei, president of ENI (Ente Nazional Idrocarburi), flying from Sicily to Milan, crashes in Bascape, killing the pilot Bertuzzi, the Time-Life reporter McHale and Mattei himself. An account follows of both the investigation into the causes of this accident (a mystery that remains unsolved) and of Mattei’s public career, revealing that diverseindividuals and organizations (from the Mafia to the CIA) had reasons for wanting to see him dead. His controversial position grew out of his efforts to use his state oil organization, AGIP, to compete with private individuals, and to deal with Third World oil-producing countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia) in terms more advantageous than the 50-50 arrangement offered by the major oil companies. This project began in April 1946, when a small methane deposit was discovered in the village of Caviaga, and Mattei decided to exaggerate and exploit its value as a coal substitute in order to create his organization and gain an economic and political foothold. In the investigation running parallel to a re-enactment of his career (the latter culminating in his visit on the day of his death to Gagliano, Sicily, where he is acclaimed as a popular hero), Mauro De Marro, a Sicilian journalist reconstructing the last day of Mattei’s life for the purposes of the present film, suddenly disappears, apparently kidnapped — another unsolved mystery.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 2002). — J.R.
Not long before embarking on his comedy Irma Vep, Olivier Assayas directed this powerful 1994 feature about doomed teenage love as part of the excellent French TV series All the Boys and Girls in Their Time, in which various filmmakers (including André Téchiné, Chantal Akerman, and Claire Denis) dramatized stories set during their teenage years, scoring them with the pop music of the period. Assayas’s contribution, perhaps the most affecting in the whole series, takes place on the outskirts of Paris in 1972. (Having lived in France during that period, I can report that his grasp of its countercultural lifestyles is uncanny.) Virginie Ledoyen and Cyprien Fouquet are letter-perfect as two 16-year-old delinquents from broken homes — the former periodically sent to an asylum by her Scientologist mother and boyfriend, the latter raised by a single father (New Wave regular Laszlo Szabo) — and when they run away together, one can’t imagine that they have anywhere else to go. The beautiful and heartbreaking plot culminates in a party at and around a country house, and Assayas’s sustained treatment of this event — the raging bonfire, the dope, the music and dancing — truly catches you by the throat.… Read more »
From the January 1973 issue of the short-lived Saturday Review of the Arts. — J.R.
Henri Langlois’s latest creation, the Cinema Museum in Paris, finally opened last summer, a year and a half behind schedule. Only a few of the exhibits were labeled, and five months later the long-awaited catalogue of the exposition has not yet appeared. But even in its present state, the Cinémathèque Française is already the most influential film archive in the world.
Langlois’s “Seventy-five Years of Word Cinema” occupies sixty rooms in the curving promenade of the Palais de Chaillot, directrly across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower; the present exhibit represents less than one-tenth of the Cinémathèque’s collection of movie memorabilia. From the beginning, the Turkish-born film historian has tried to save everything: to impose selective criteria, he believes,is to anticipate the critical standards of the future. If the result is a cross between a crowded attic and a carnival funhouse, with all its calculated effects, this approach also permitted such young critics as Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, and François Truffaut in the 1950s to take crash courses in every kind of cinema before making their own movies.
The vision of the Cinémathèque’s founder encompasses both Marilyn Monroe and Eisenstein; stray souvenirs and essential artifacts are given equal prominence.… Read more »
From The Soho News (May 6, 1981). — J.R.
Just a Gigolo
Black and White Like Day and Night
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From the Chicago Reader (May 13, 2005). — J.R.
*** (A must see)
Directed by Paul Haggis
Written by Haggis and Bobby Moresco
With Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Dashon Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Nona Gaye, and Michael Pena
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Renny Harlin
Written by Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin
With Eion Bailey, Clifton Collins Jr., Will Kemp, Val Kilmer, Jonny Lee Miller, Kathryn Morris, Christian Slater, LL Cool J, Patricia Velasquez, and Cassandra Bell
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by Robert Luketic
Written by Anya Kochoff and Richard LaGravenese
With Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Vartan, and Wanda Sykes
We tend to make trade-offs between reality and fantasy when we watch movies, buying into some questionable premises because we want to honor others. Despite shared assumptions and conventions, we have different thresholds for what we find believable — or an acceptable version of what’s real. We’ll settle for a certain amount of contrivance, but our tolerance has limits, determined in part by age, taste, and experience and in part by whether we like the rest of the movie enough to stretch our standards.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (September 28, 2007). The second photograph below is by Pamela Gentile. — J.R.
Sometimes the most powerful and influential people are protected by their relative obscurity, and it’s hard to think of a better illustration of this principle in the film world than the multifaceted, eccentric, controversial Pierre Rissient, whom I’ve known for 35 years. Among other achievements, he’s probably discovered more important filmmakers than anyone else I know — figures ranging from Cy Endfield to Lino Brocka to Jane Campion to Abbas Kiarostami. It takes most of Todd McCarthy’s well-used 110 minutes in this lively documentary to explain all the creative, behind-the-scene activities Rissient generates in relation to criticism, filmmaking, distribution, exhibition, and programming, and even though this is mainly the sympathetic view of a friend, the portrait is complex and nuanced. Among the many interviewees, Olivier Assayas is especially perceptive when he describes Rissient as being like a teenager. In English, French, and Mandarin with subtitles. (JR)
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