Monthly Archives: May 2018

On the Arrest of Roman Polanski [updated, 10/2/09]

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 »

Heading South

From the Chicago Reader (March 3, 2006). — J.R.

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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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Two-Lane Blacktop

From the Chicago Reader (February 23, 2001). — J.R.

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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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From Bowles to the Bowery: Sara Driver in Hyper Drive

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.

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That doesn’t mean that there aren’t various connections between these works going well beyond the recurrence of various collaborators.… Read more »

Badlands (1974 review)

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.

Badlands

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 »

Love in the Time of Thatcherism [HIGH HOPES]

From the Chicago Reader (April 21, 1988). — J.R.

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HIGH HOPES

*** (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.

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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 Movie Museum

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 »

Declarations of Independents: Marry Royalty and Escape

From The Soho News (May 6, 1981). — J.R.

Impostors

Just a Gigolo

Black and White Like Day and Night

Film Still

“All bourgeois dreams end the same way. Marry royalty and escape.” — Chuckie (Charles Ludlam) in Impostors

April 20: It’s a pity that  Mark Rappaport: The TV Spinoff, which Channel 13 revives shortly after midnight, only a day before I attend a press show of Rappaport’s Impostors (playing at the Art through Tuesday), won’t be seen by everyone who’s encountering this filmmaker’s original, unsettling work for the first time. As a very witty précis of what watching (and financing and making) his movies can be like, I doubt it could be much improved upon. At the outset, when Rappaport is trying out different kinds of music with different movie stills — just a formal variation, really, of his subsequent tryouts with different costumes, backdrops, front-projections, plots, characters, clips, and raps about his movies — he’s already setting up the paradoxical parameters of his glamorously homemade cinema.

It’s a place where the writer-director and his resourceful actors and crew are all studiously working their asses off to furnish the audience with a kind of do-it-yourself melodrama kit, at once firmly overdetermined and subtly undermined — full of hysteria and intrigue, signifying everything.

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Man Of Cinema: Pierre Rissient

From the Chicago Reader (September 28, 2007). The second photograph below is by Pamela Gentile. — J.R.

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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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In defense of spoilers (2006 Reader blog post)

This was/is my first post for the Chicago Reader‘s film blog; there aren’t/weren’t any hyperlinks. This is reprinted in my collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia.  — J.R.

In defense of spoilers

Tue, Nov 14, 2006 at 3:54 PM

Some people’s obsessive preoccupation with spoilers has been driving me batty lately. It isn’t only among moviegoers; many fiction readers are equally afflicted. Visiting a Thomas Pynchon chat room lately in conjunction with a recent prepublication reading of Against the Day, I find other Pynchon freaks breathlessly advising one another about whether they should read the short review of the novel that Time has already posted, which actually mentions — horrors! — one of the characters getting killed, something that happens, if I remember correctly, roughly a fifth of the way through this almost 1100-page novel. Percentage-wise, that’s about as far as you have to watch The Death of a President [see photo] before you witness the assassination that the title already announces. Honestly, does that spoil the movie for anybody?

Give me a break. Is this form of worry a fit activity for grown-ups?

My objections to spoiler-think are multiple, so I might as well set them down in a list:

1.… Read more »

The Good, the Bad, and the English [DEAD AGAIN]

From the Chicago Reader (August 30, 1991). — J.R.

DEAD AGAIN ** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Written by Scott Frank

With Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Hanna Schygulla, Robin Williams, Campbell Scott, and Wayne Knight.

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The most instructive evening I’ve spent in the English theater was the first time I went, in the mid-60s, to a series of three one-act plays written by and starring Noel Coward called Suite in Three Keys, which may well have been Coward’s last stage appearance. In retrospect, what seemed so peculiarly English about the whole experience was the communion that existed between Coward and his audience. The plots of all three plays were negligible and the repartee more standard-issue than brilliant. All that really mattered, it seemed, was the mysterious intimacy, the almost conspiratorial rapport between Coward and his public, which had more to do with personality than with narrative, character, or even performance in the usual sense. The overall effect seemed to have a lot more to do with entertainment than with art; the feeling was much closer to that of patrons crowded around a piano in a pub than to theatergoers pondering lofty questions like the meaning of life.… Read more »