Part of my 1987 application for the job of film reviewer at the Chicago Reader consisted of writing three long sample reviews for them in March and/or April — only one of which was published by them (Radio Days), although, as I recall, they paid me for all three. (Writing my pieces in Santa Barbara, I was limited in my choices of what I could write about.) I only recently came across the two unpublished reviews, of Platoon and Round Midnight, in manuscript, although I recall that I did appropriate certain portions of them in subsequent reviews. Otherwise, the first publications of these pieces are on this site. — J.R.
Directed and written by Oliver Stone
With Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem DaFoe and Keith David.
“I mean, you know that, it just can’t be done! We both shrugged and laughed, and Page looked very thoughtful for a moment. “The very idea!” he said. “Ohhh, what a laugh! Take the bloody glamour out of bloody war!”
Michael Herr, Dispatches
The myth of lost innocence that permeates American movies like some omnipresent air freshener ultimately has a lot to answer for.… Read more »
From Cinema Scope #19 (Summer 2004). This is obviously out of date in many respects, fourteen years later, but I repost it now a period piece. — J.R.
Joan Hawkins opens her book Cutting Edge: Art Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde (Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) with an interesting and useful observation:
“Open the pages of any horror fanzine —- Outré, Fangoria, Cinefantastique —- and you will find listings for mail-order video companies that cater to aficionados of what Jeffrey Sconce has called `para-cinema’ and trash aesthetics. Not only do these mail-order companies represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the video market, but their catalogs challenge many of our continuing assumptions about the binary opposition of prestige cinema (European art and avant-garde/experimental films) and popular culture. Certainly, they highlight an aspect of art cinema generally overlooked or repressed in cultural analysis: namely, the degree to which high culture trades on the same images, tropes, and themes that characterize low culture.”
As a direct illustration of Hawkins’ point, check out the web site www.xploitedcinema.com, a U.S. importer of overseas DVDs that also sells some domestic items and caters mainly to trash aesthetics, but among whose 86 pages of sex, horror, action, and gore items I also recently found an Italian two-disc set of my favorite Bernardo Bertolucci film, Prima della Rivoluzione/Before the Revolution (his second feature, 1964 — subtitled in English, along with all the extras), not to mention English-friendly Spanish and/or Mexican editions of my two favorite Alex Cox films (the 1987 Walker and the 1994 Highway Patrolman), a Spanish edition of Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight, a Korean edition of Sam Peckinpah’s scandalously underrated Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), and Italian editions of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 20, 2004); I’ve revised this slightly [in June 2011]. — J.R.
Revolution ** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Stephen Jones
Written by Bob Avakian
Queimada **** (Masterpiece)
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Written by Franco Solinas and Giorgio Arlorio
With Marlon Brando, Evaristo Marquez, Norman Hill, and Renato Salvatori.
The Last Emperor **** (Masterpiece)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Written by Mark Peploe and Bertolucci
With John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, Ruocheng Ying, and Victor Wong.
August is traditionally the month when films people don’t know what to do with surface, a time when those films are less apt to be noticed. This August three of these films happen to be about revolution. Actually Revolution, showing Wednesday at the 3 Penny, isn’t a movie but a DVD of the first 136 minutes of a long, four-part lecture by Bob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, in what is reportedly his first public appearance since 1979. The other two are director’s cuts of celebrated movies, both being screened here for the first time. Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography that Gillo Pontecorvo’s Queimada (1969), showing several times this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, contains “the best acting I’ve ever done,” and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), screening August 28 at Facets Cinematheque, won five Oscars, including those for best picture and best director.… Read more »
Written in late 2006 and published in Discovering Orson Welles the following year. — J.R.
The process-oriented methods that permitted at least four Welles features and a number of short works to be left unﬁnished are easier to understand than they would be if we adopted the mental habits of producers, which is exactly what more and more critics today seem to be doing; but that is no comfort to those of us eager to understand, and eager as critics always are to have the last word, which we are not about to have with this ﬁlmmaker. At least our direction, as always, is laid out for us: as long as one frame of ﬁlm by the greatest ﬁlmmaker of the modern era is moldering in vaults, our work is not done. It is the last challenge, and the biggest joke, of an oeuvre that has always had more designs on us than we could ever have on it.
Bill Krohn’s cautionary words in Cahiers du cinéma’s special “hors série” Orson Welles issue in 1986 offer a useful motto for the present collection of essays, whose own title, Discovering Orson Welles, suggests an ongoing process that necessarily rules out completion and closure — the two mythical absolutes that Welles enthusiasts and scholars seem to hunger for the most.… Read more »
I’ve appended a different title to this Chicago Reader review which ran on July 11, 2003 and restored a few details in my argument as well as phrases that a bleary-eyed editor, foregoing the Reader’s usual writer-friendly protocol, deleted at the last minute without telling me. Down with Love, in particular, continues to be a major revelation and source of pleasure for me. — J.R.
Down With Love
Directed by Peyton Reed
Written by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake
With Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Sarah Paulson, David Hyde Pierce, and Tony Randall.
Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Guy Maddin
With Zhang Wei-qiang, Tara Birtwhistle, David Moroni, CindyMarie Small, Johnny Wright, and Brent Neale.
If a more interesting and entertaining Hollywood movie than Down With Love has come along this year, I’ve missed it. Down With Love — which has already closed in Chicago — is entertaining thanks to Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake’s clever script, Peyton Reed’s mainly assured direction, inventive production and costume design, a musical number behind the final credits I’d happily swap all of Chicago for, and even a miscast Renee Zellweger pulling off a difficult climactic monologue.… Read more »
On January 3, 1978, during what must have been my first visit back to London after moving from there to San Diego in early 1977, I attended a private screening at the British Film Institute of glorious new prints of Fritz Lang’s Indian films. Over four years later, when I was invited to program “Buried Treasures” at the Toronto Festival of Festivals, I was delighted to be able to book these prints and thus hold what I believe was the North American premiere of Fritz Lang’s penultimate films in their correct versions, uncut and subtitled in English rather than dubbed. Luckily, Film Forum’s Karen Cooper attended this screening, and two years later, when she booked these prints for a theatrical run, she commissioned me to write program notes, reprinted below. — J.R. THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR/THE INDIAN TOMB (1958, 1959/101, 97 min.) Directed by Fritz Lang. Exec. Producer: Arthur Brauner. Screenplay by Lang & Werner Jorg Luddecke from a novel by Thea von Harbou & a scenario by Lang & von Harbou. Photographed by Richard Angst. Art direction by Helmut Nentwig, Willy Schatz. With: Debra Paget (Seetha), Paul Hubschmid (Harald Berger), Walter Reyer (Chandra), Claus Holm (Dr. Rhode), Sabine Bethmann (Irene Rhode), René Deltman (Ramigani).… Read more »
A slightly different version of the Introduction to my 2004 collection, Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.
As the son and grandson of small-town exhibitors — a legacy explored in detail in my first book, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980/1995) — I find it difficult to pinpoint with any exactitude when my film education started. But I can recall two pivotal early steps during my freshman year at New York University in 1961, when I was an English major still aspiring to become a professional novelist: taking the first and only film course I’ve ever had in my life and purchasing my first film magazine.
The course was an introductory survey taught by the late Haig Manoogian, who was serving as Martin Scorsese’s mentor in production courses around the same time. For me, it mainly afforded me my first opportunity to see The Birth of a Nation, The Last Laugh, and a few other film history staples; since I had no interest in making movies — or at this point in writing about them — I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for such matters as “story values” that Manoogian tended to emphasize.… Read more »
The third chapter of my book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See (Chicago: A Cappella Books, 2000). The cover below is that of the U.K. edition published by the Wallflower Press. To set the context, the book’s previous chapter is called “Some Vagaries of Distribution and Exhibition”. — J.R.
A much more common and systematic method of obfuscating business practices in the ﬁlm industry, especially in blurring the lines between journalism and publicity, is the movie junket. Here’s how it generally works: a studio at its own expense ﬂies a number of journalists either to a location where a movie is being shot or to a large city where it is being previewed, puts the journalists up at fancy hotels, and then arranges a series of closely monitored interviews with the “talent” (most often the stars and the director). The journalists are then expected to go home and write puff pieces about the movies in question, run in newspapers and magazines as either reportage or as a classy form of “ﬁlm criticism.” If these journalists don’t oblige — and sometimes obliging entails not only favorable coverage, but articles with particular emphases set by publicists, articles that screen out certain forbidden topics and hone in on certain others — then the studios won’t invite them back to future junkets.… Read more »
Chapter Two of my book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See (Chicago: A Cappella Books, 2000). The cover below is that of the U.K. edition published by the Wallflower Press. — J.R.
How often are aesthetic agendas determined by business agendas? This question is not raised often enough.Terminology plays an important role here. For example, once upon a time, previews of new releases were called “sneak previews” because the titles of these pictures weren’t announced in advance. Most industry people continue to use the term, despite the fact that the titles are announced and even advertised, so that the original meaning gets obfuscated: the only thing “sneaky” is the fact that they’re called “sneak previews.”This is a relatively trivial example of how terminology alienates us from what goes on in the world of movies. A more signiﬁcant example is how we use an extremely loaded term like “independent.” An independent ﬁlmmaker traditionally meant a ﬁlmmaker who worked independently, free from the pressures of the major studios. If you believe what the media say about independent ﬁlms, then the mecca for independent ﬁlmmaking would be the Sundance Film Festival, an event where independent ﬁlms and ﬁlmmakers congregate annually.… Read more »
Published by Chicago’s a cappella press in 2000. The jacket reproduced below, which I prefer, belongs to the English edition published by Wallflower Press in 2002; the full title is Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See. — J.R.
To refer to a producer’s oeuvre is, at least to me, as ignorant as to refer to the oeuvre of a stockbroker.
— David Mamet
There are a lot of complaints these days about the declining quality of movie fare, and the worsening taste of the public is typically asked to shoulder a good part of the blame.
Other causes are cited as well. The collapse of the old studio system meant the loss of studio heads who lent their distinctive stamp to each of their pictures — often vulgar and overblown, to be sure, but also personal and engaged — to be replaced largely by cost accountants and corporate executives with little ﬂair, imagination, or passion. The exponential growth of video has made home viewing more popular than theatrical moviegoing and has therefore helped to diminish everyone’s sense of what a movie is, so that the size and deﬁnition of the image, a clear sense of its borders, the quality and direction of light, and the notions of ﬁlm as community event, theatrical experience, or “something special,” have all suffered terrible losses.… Read more »
This is the Introduction to the fourth section of my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1993). I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few links to some of the pieces of mine mentioned here which appear on this web site. — J.R.
This is the most rebellious and contentious section of the book, and because of this, some readers will regard it as the least practical or viable. Before you make up your own mind about this, however, I’d like to ask you to examine precisely what you mean by “practical” and “viable.” Do you mean most likely to change the world, or do you mean most likely to affect the majority? If in fact you believe that the likeliest way to change the world is invariably to affect the majority, then it might be beneficial to look at that premise a little more closely and see if it always holds up.
Speaking from my own experience, the times when I’ve reached the greatest number of readers at once — writing features in the pages of magazines like Elle and Omni — are the times when my point of view has had the least amount of effect.… Read more »
This is the Introduction to the first section of my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1993). I’ve taking the liberty of adding a few links to some of the pieces of mine mentioned here which appear on this web site. — J.R.
Although this entire book is devoted to film criticism as a practice, this section emphasizes this fact by dealing with film criticism directly as a subject. This includes both specific examinations of the work of other critics and polemical forays into questions about how critics and reviewers operate on a day-to-day basis. A broader look at the same topic might question whether film criticism as it’s presently constituted is a worthy activity in the first place — if in fact the public would be better off without it.
I should add that it’s the institutional glibness of film criticism in both its academic and mainstream branches — above all in the United States, where it seems most widespread and least justifiable — that has led me on occasion to raise this latter question. Speaking as someone who set out to become a professional writer but not a professional film critic, I’ve never felt that movie reviewing was an especially exalted activity, but I didn’t start out with any contempt or disdain for the profession either.… Read more »
I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the eleventh and last.
Note: The following index to Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980) cannot be used here for its pagination in relation to this particular web site, but the links provided lead directly to the relevant passages online.
Another note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. — J.R.
Directions for Use
An attempt to extend the usefulness and reduce the elitism of the standard index, in which the reader is enabled to trace certain connections and to discover or rediscover the traces of certain people, places, films, and other cultural artifacts, in motion and in circulation, whether cited or merely evoked in the text. A few supplementary bibliographical suggestions are also included.
Aaron, Judge Edward, 142 , 192
A Bout De Souffle. See Breathless
Academy Awards, 118 , 124
Advent screens, ix , 118 , 147 , 174
Advertising, x , 7 -8, 10 , 18 , 29 , 35 , 40 , 43 , 52 -53, 55 , 58 , 60 , 63 , 68 , 77 , 85 , 93 , 98 -99, 101 , 108-120 , 122 , 123 -124, 127 , 142 -143, 144 , 149 , 158 , 177 .… Read more »
I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the tenth.
Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. — J.R.
Made in Hoboken
Douglas, Wyoming, 1914—three states away from where our old friend Gordon MacRae is still only a radical freshman or a freethinking sophomore at the University of Indiana—Bo is operating his very first movie theater, at the age of twenty-seven. Think of it: when Jonathan’s the same age, in 1970, he’s working fitfully on his second yet-to-be unpublished novel, completing his first yet-to-be unpublished book as an editor (a collection of film criticism he was commissioned to do), still living on the dregs of Bo’s inheritance, and dividing the first three months of the year among three countries: pursuing a heavy love affair in New York, having his appendix removed in London (and smoking hash with his brother Michael’s friends in a room called the Box), and taking acid all alone one beautiful spring afternoon in Paris, where he moved last fall, acid that suddenly prompts him to buy red paint, a roller, and brushes, and to go to work on his bedroom closets—a conversation with the wood, red saying one thing, grain saying another—and later sends him out the door and up rue Mazarine to the Odéon métro stop, a little after 6:30, to take the Porte de Clignancourt train as far as Châtelet and then the Mairie des Lilas train to République.… Read more »
I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the ninth.
Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. — J.R.
Station Identification II
Yes, I need the Conquistador; and yes, I mistrust and sometimes despise him. At eight and ten, while watching On Moonlight Bay, I knew that I needed him, and I loved him, too; I’m sure that I even loved my servitude. Now I question how well he fulfilled his duties as a foster parent. I can’t deny that he kept me entertained and even busy, but whether he’s worthy of the sort of unquestioning admiration due to, say, Nigger Jim is a different matter. Right now I’d say that it was Uncle Remus who came closer to describing—or executing—his peculiar talents.
Now there was a traumatic experience. Walt Disney’s Song of the South , according to my real parents, was the first film they ever took me to (probably during its initial run at the Princess, April 8–11, 1947, not long after I turned four and less than a year after Bo taught me how to read).… Read more »