Monthly Archives: August 2018

The True Auteur: RICHARD PRYOR LIVE IN CONCERT

This review was originally written for the long-defunct Canadian film magazine Take One during the same time that I was writing my first book, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980), and I’m sure that Pryor’s passionate form of self-examination and autocritique struck a very personal chord for me at the time. To contextualize this review a little further, I had recently written an angry attack on The Deer Hunter for the March issue of the same magazine, not too long after a reviewer in the Soho News had compared it favorably to Tolstoy. –J.R.

 

The True Auteur: Richard Pryor Live in Concert

 

Richard Pryor Live in Concert has nothing in particular to do with the art of cinema; it merely happens to be the densest, wisest, and most generous response to life that I’ve found this year inside a first-run movie theater. A theatrical event recorded by Bill Sargeant, the entrepreneur who similarly packaged Richard Burton’s Broadway production of Hamlet and a celebrated rock concert (The T.A.M.I. Show) fifteen years ago, and more recently filmed James Whitmore’s impersonation of Harry Truman (Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!), it is nothing more nor less than a Pryor stand-up routine given last December 28th at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California, lasting about an hour and a quarter.… Read more »

Viennale Celebrations

For Film Comment (January-February 2013). — J.R.

 

My first experience of Vienna — Christmas 1970 with my girlfriend, another American expatriate in Paris — felt mostly like an alienating visit to the lofty tomb of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Apart from The Magic Flute at the Opera and many favorite Bruegels a few blocks away at the Kunsthistorische Museum, the city seemed to belong exclusively to locals, only one of whom I slightly knew — Peter Kubelka at the Austrian Filmmuseum — and after a brief visit to say hello to him, our only cinematic activity was attending a commercial rerun and lousy print of Torn Curtain dubbed into German.

http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/2d/bb/c5/bruegel-s-peasant.jpg

 

Over a quarter of a century later, thanks to the Viennale, my next encounter with the city was entirely different, introducing me to a vibrant alternative film scene differing from, say, the Rotterdam film festival by virtue of having so many gifted local experimental filmmakers around in the immediate vicinity (among others, Martin Arnold, Gustav Deutsch, Kubelka, Lisl Ponger, and Peter Tscherkassky) and a much broader age group of passionate cinephiles turning up at the screenings. The latter scene was clearly the creation of such programmers as Alexander Horwath (Kubelka’s successor at the Filmmuseum and a onetime Viennale codirector) and Hans Hurch, a former assistant to Straub-Huillet who has been the Viennale’s inspired director since 1997.Read more »

Beyond the Blurbs

From the Chicago Reader (August 30, 1996). — J.R.

Foxfire

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Annette Haywood-Carter

Written by Elizabeth White

With Hedy Burress, Angelina Jolie, Jenny Lewis, Jenny Shimizu, Sarah Rosenberg, and Peter Facinelli.

Escape From L.A.

Rating *** A must see

Directed by John Carpenter

Written by Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Kurt Russell

With Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, George Corraface, and Cliff Robertson.

Tin Cup

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Ron Shelton

Written by John Norville and Shelton

With Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, and Don Johnson.

It’s already pretty clear from reviews and head counts that Escape From L.A. is something of a box-office loser and Tin Cup something of a winner. And although I wrote what follows about Foxfire before I knew its commercial fate, my suspicions were confirmed with such a vengeance that it’s no longer playing in Chicago (keep your eyes peeled for a second run). All three films are worth seeing — at least if you’re willing to settle for something good, not great, during the usual prefall slump — but my preference for Foxfire and Escape From L.A. over Tin Cup isn’t simple contrariness. If you go to movies in the hope of finding something beautiful or imaginative or different, as I do, there’s simply no contest.

Read more »

The Greening of Switzerland

This book review was the first thing I ever wrote for The Soho News, a small-time weekly competitor of The Village Voice that I wrote for every week for about a year and a half (1980-81), reviewing books as well as movies on a fairly regular basis. I did 68 pieces for them in all, and this first effort, as I recall, was a kind of trial balloon. — J.R.

The Greening of Switzerland

by Jonathan Rosenbaum
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Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party

By Graham Greene
Simon and Schuster, $9.95

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“The meat is excellent, but I have no appetite,” remarks the noble, grief-stricken narrator of Graham Greene’s opulent 21st novel — plain old Alfred Jones, a middle-class voyeur like us — at the climactic title party, in response to a query from the wealthy title host and villain. Then he adds more confidentially, to the reader, “I helped myself to another glass of Mouton Rothschild; it wasn’t for the flavor of the wine that I drank it, for my palate seemed dead, it was for the distant promise of a sort of oblivion.” The same sort of delicious oblivion, one might add, that we normally expect from a new Greene novel — which is the sort that the latest one amply supplies.… Read more »

Portfolio Without Artist [JOHN HUSTON & THE DUBLINERS]

From the July 8, 1988 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

JohnHuston&TheDubliners

 

JOHN HUSTON & THE DUBLINERS

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Lilyan Sievernich.

jj_the_dead

The on-location production documentary, a movie chronicling the shooting of a movie, is a fairly recent phenomenon, although its equivalent in print has been around much longer. (For instance, Micheal MacLiammoir’s Put Money in Thy Purse, about Orson Welles’s Othello, and Lillian Ross’s Picture, about John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage, were both published in 1952.) One usual difference between the written and the filmed reports is that the latter tend to be inside jobs financed by the producers of the features in question, and consequently are promotional in nature rather than critical: Chris Marker’s short feature about the making of Ran and Ron Mann’s documentary about the making of Legal Eagles are two recent examples, and Lilyan Sievernich’s hour-long account of John Huston shooting The Dead belongs in this category. Yet there are a few things about Sievernich’s film that make it rather special.

Huston was 82 and very close to dying when he made The Dead, and everyone connected with the film was acutely aware of it. He directed from a wheelchair, was hooked up to an oxygen machine for his emphysema, and generally viewed the actors on the set from a TV monitor.… Read more »

Invitation to the Trance [SLEEPWALK]

From the January 29, 1988 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

SLEEPWALK

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Sara Driver

Written by Driver and Lorenzo Mans

With Suzanne Fletcher, Ann Magnuson, Dexter Lee, Steven Chen, Tony Todd, Richard Boes, and Ako.

The French term fantastique — which emcompasses science fiction, comic strips, Surrealism, sword and sorcery tales, and many other forms of fantasy — suggests an attitude toward the imagination that is distinctly different from the Anglo-American model. In our more empirical culture, reams of verbiage are devoted to distinguishing science fiction from fantasy, and legislating certain laws of etiquette to govern both — rules of internal consistency and narrative coherence decreeing that all breaches with recognizable reality stem from the same premises, whether these premises be scientific, purely fanciful, or some mixture of the two.

The French tend to be freer and looser about such matters, which helps to explain why such films as Les visiteurs du soir, Picnic on the Grass, Last Year at Marienbad, Je t’aime, je t’aime, Alphaville, Fahrenheit 451, Celine and Julie Go Boating, and Deathwatch pose to English and American temperaments certain problems that are not posed by The Wizard of Oz, Things to Come, It’s a Wonderful Life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Exorcist, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner.… Read more »

Both Sides Now [THE CEREMONY]

Claude Chabrol died at the age of eighty, and I’d like to celebrate his work by focusing on what I regard as probably the greatest and most masterful of his later films, made in 1995 but released in the U.S. two years later. This review, which was later used as liner notes for the film’s American DVD, ran in the Chicago Reader on February 14, 1997. — J.R.

The Ceremony

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed by Claude Chabrol

Written by Chabrol and Caroline Eliacheff

With Sandrine Bonnaire, Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Virginie Ledoyen, and Valentin Merlet.

It’s odd that Claude Chabrol is the most neglected filmmaker of the French New Wave today, at least in this country, because he started out as the most commercial and has turned out to be the most prolific, with the possible exception of Jean-Luc Godard. I’ve seen 33 of his 46 features, but nothing in over a quarter of a century that’s quite as good as La cérémonie, an adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s novel A Judgement in Stone.

Born in 1930, about six months ahead of Godard, Chabrol came from a family of pharmacists (as did Jacques Rivette). At the age of 17 he met François Truffaut at a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, and ten years later he collaborated with Eric Rohmer on the first critical study of Hitchcock to appear anywhere.… Read more »

Real Horror Shows [EYES WITHOUT A FACE & THE KINGDOM]

From the Chicago Reader (November 24, 1995). — J.R.

Eyes Without a Face

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Georges Franju

Written by Jean Redon, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Claude Sautet, Pierre Gascar, and Franju

With Edith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Béatrice Altariba, François Guerin, Alexandre Rignault, and Claude Brasseur.

The Kingdom

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred

Written by von Trier, Niels Vorsel, and Tomas Gislason

With Ernst Hugo Jaregard, Kirsten Rolffes, Ghita Norby, Soren Pilmark, Holger Juul Hansen, Annevig Schelde Ebbe, Jens Okking, Otto Brandenburg, Baard Owe, and Birgitte Raabjerg.

They’re both arty European fantasy meditations on the medical profession — that’s about all that Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1959) and Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom (1993) have in common, apart from the fact that they’re both opening here the day after Thanksgiving. The differences between them are much more instructive. Franju’s Les yeux sans visage is a poetic, compact (88 minutes) black-and-white French horror picture about skin grafting that premiered inauspiciously in the United States 32 years ago in a dubbed and reportedly mangled version known as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus; happily, Facets Multimedia is showing it in its original form and subtitled.… Read more »

Rotterdam Redux

From The Independent: Film and Video Monthly, November 1985 — J.R.

Having attended festivals of many shapes and sizes around the world, I can think of none that is more conducive to the serious viewing of original, offbeat work than the Rotterdam Film Festival. While Rotterdam lacks the global media coverage and accompanying hoopla of a Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Filmex, or Berlin, the festival offers filmmakers a congenial and sympathetic setting. Significantly, American independents as diverse as Jim Jarmusch and Mark Rappaport — as well as European figures like Manoel de Oliveira and Raul Ruiz — made their mark there long before they were treated to New York Film Festival premieres.

A cash prize is awarded each year to a film selected by the Dutch critics. Most recently, it went to Ruiz’s Manoel à l’ïle des merveilles (see two stills above), a French-Portuguese television co-production shot in 16mm, comprising three 50-minute episodes. However, the overall spirit of the festival is anything but competitive, and as a rule the critics prize will go to a film that the critics feel is deserving of special attention rather than an audience favorite.… Read more »

AMARCORD (1982 review)

This was written in 1982 for The Movie: An Illustrated History of the Movies in the U.K. — J.R.

Starting with Gradisca, a local beauty, lighting a torch and setting a bonfire ablaze to roast the ‘winter-witch’ and usher in the spring, and ending with the wistful farewell she bestows a year later on the randy teenage boys at her wedding while sadly tossing away her bridal bouquet, the small-town life celebrated by Amarcord is above all one of community rituals and seasonal changes. Within this basic rhythmic pattern of eternal recurrence, dreams and other fantasies play as much of a role as precise recollections.

Amarcord means ‘I remember’ in the regional dialect of Rimini (Fellini’s own hometown), and even though the director has been at pains to disclaim any specific autobiographical intent in this episodic caravan or burghers and small-town events, it is clear enough in Fellini’s work as a whole that fact and fancy are never very far apart. Amarcord is Fellini’s thirteenth feature as a director, made 20 years after his first treatment of male adolescence in I Vitelloni (1953, The Spivs), and the distance he has traveled since is largely a matter of the extent to which he has learned to trust imagination over ‘realistic’ observation.… Read more »