Monthly Archives: February 2019

French Provincial [POULET AU VINAIGRE]

A review from the May 26, 1989 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

POULET AU VINAIGRE

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Claude Chabrol

Written by Dominique Roulet and Chabrol

With Jean Poiret, Stéphane Audran, Michel Bouquet, Jean Topart, Lucas Belvaux, Pauline Lafont, Jean-Claude Bouillaud, and Caroline Cellier.

In 1985, after seeing Claude Chabrol’s Poulet au vinaigre at the Toronto Festival of Festivals, I remember thinking: At last! The petit-maître is back in form, doing what he knows how to do best; here’s a Chabrol movie that’s sure to get an American release. (At that point it had been about seven years since Violette Nozière — which wasn’t one of my favorite Chabrol films — had opened in the U.S.) Poulet au vinaigre had sex, violence, dark wit, a superb sense of both the corruption and meanness of life in the French provinces, a good whodunit plot, Balzacian characters (including an interesting detective), and very nice camera work by Jean Rabier, Chabrol’s usual cinematographer. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but at the very least it was a well-crafted and satisfying entertainment that surely, I thought, would be enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, it already was being enjoyed by the audience I was seeing it with in Toronto.… Read more »

FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1976, Vol. 43, No. 504. — J.R.

Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox)
West Germany, 1975
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Ce r t–X. dist–Cinegate. p.c–Tango-Film. p–Rainer Werner Fassbinder. p. manager–Christian Hohoff. asst. d–Irm Hermann. sc—Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Christian Hohoff. ph–Mictrael Ballhaus. col–Eastman Colour. ed–Thea Eymèsz. a.d–Kurt Raab. m–Peer Raben. songs–“One Night” by Pearl King, Dave Bartholomew, performed by Elvis Presley; “Bird on the Wire” by and performed by Leonard Cohen. l.p–Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“Fox” Franz Biberkopf), Peter Chatel (Eugen Theiss), Karl- Heinz Böhm (Max), Harry Bär (Philip), Adrian Hoven (Eugen’s Father), Ulla Jacobsen (Eugen’s Mother), Christiane Maybach (Hedwig), Peter Kern (Florist “Fatty” Schmidt), Hans Zandler (Man in Bar), Kurt Raab (Barman Springer),Irm Hermann (Mlle. Chérie de Paris), Barbara Valentin (Max’s Wife), Walter Sedlmayr (Car Dealer), Ingrid Caven (Singer in Bar), (El Hedi Ben Salem (Moroccan), Brigitte Mira (Shopkeeper),Bruce Low (Soldier), Ursula Strätz, Elma Karlowa, Evelyn Künneke, Marquart Bohm, Liselone Eder, Klaus Löwitsch.

11,077 ft.… Read more »

Lord of the Melting Pot [THE LION KING]

From the Chicago Reader (July 22, 1994). — J.R.

** THE LION KING

(Worth seeing)

Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton

With the voices of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Moira Kelly, Jim Cummings, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cheech Marin.

Though it’s somewhat less entertaining than The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, The Lion King marks a welcome and fascinating shift in the Disney animated feature. It may be just a coincidence, but Disney’s new live-action Angels in the Outfield, a multicultural remake of a 1951 baseball fantasy, marks the same kind of racial and ethnic reorientation. I’d like to think that the widespread (and justifiable) objections raised by Middle Eastern groups to the xenophobic stereotypes in Aladdin have finally led to some rethinking by Disney executives about how to handle such ethnic material. If my hunch is correct, these changes represent not so much a kowtowing to political correctness as a more accurate reckoning of Disney’s stateside and international audience.

The issue isn’t exactly reality versus fantasy, because all Disney pictures are fantasies. In real life a white orphan isn’t likely to be adopted by a black man even if the white orphan’s best friend is a black orphan who comes along with the bargain (as in Angels in the Outfield).… Read more »

*CORPUS CALLOSUM

A short review commissioned by Film Comment (July-August 2002), which left out the asterisk in the title.  — J.R.

*Corpus Callosum

I recently read in a film festival report that Michael Snow’s new 92-minute feature was a bit longer than it needed to be. This conjured up visions of a test-marketing preview — cards handed out at Anthology Film Archives with questions like, “Would an ideal length for this be 82 minutes? An hour? Three minutes? 920 minutes?” For even though this may be the best Snow film since La Région Centrale in 1971 — a commemorative (and quite accessible) magnum opus with many echoes and aspects of his previous works   — it enters a moviegoing climate distinctly different from the kind that greeted his earlier masterpieces. In 1969, the late, great Raymond Durgnat could find the same “mixture of despair and acquiescence” in both Frank Tashlin and Andy Warhol; today, on the other hand, avant-garde art is expected to perform like light entertainment.

Up to a point, Snow seems ready to oblige with his irrepressible jokiness —- a taste for rebus-style metaphors (often banal) and adolescent pranks (a giant penis hovering over a blonde’s backside) that makes this the least neurotic experimental film about technology imaginable — the precise opposite of Leslie Thornton’s feature-length cycle Peggy and Fred in Hell.… Read more »

Remember Amnesia?

From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 1991) — J.R.

ARCHANGEL

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Guy Maddin

Written by George Toles and Maddin

With Kyle McCulloch, Kathy Marykuca, Ari Cohen, Sarah Neville, Michael Gottli, and Victor Cowie.

Amnesia is a subject we associate with film noir of the 40s and 50s, and social commentators tend to link its use in such films — with their gloomy and murky moods, their amnesiac heroes’ helplessness — to some version of postwar angst. Now it appears that amnesia — both as subject and as metaphor — is making a minor comeback as a postmodernist theme. An early instance of this trend can be found in the fate of Tyrone Slothrop, the hero of Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow, who gradually gets phased out of the book as a visible presence once he starts shifting his attention from his inscrutable, troubling past to his immediate present. We learn that “‘personal density is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth….Temporal bandwidth’ is the width of your present, your now … [and] the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are. It may even get to where you’re having trouble remembering what you were doing five minutes ago, or even — as Slothrop now — what you’re doing here, at the base of this colossal curved embankment…”

It’s a paradoxical hallmark of postmodernist art to be preoccupied with certain aspects of the past while being closed off — whether through indifference or ignorance or (real or metaphorical) amnesia — to certain other aspects.… Read more »

The Ambiguities of Yvonne Rainer

From the March 1980 issue of American Film. – J.R.

It’s pretty apparent to anyone who meets avant-garde filmmaker Yvonne Rainer for the first time that she used to be a dancer. But one probably has to see at least one of her four challenging features in order to perceive that she used to be a choreographer, too. And it’s only after one considers her in both these capacities that one starts to get an inking of what her viewpoint and her art are all about.

The first time I met her — three and a half years ago, at the Edinburgh Film Festival — Rainer reminded me in several ways of writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag. It wasn’t merely the somewhat glamorous positions that both women occupy on respective intellectual turfs. There was also a kind of spiritual resemblance that seemed to run much deeper: voice tone, appearance, wit, grace, and coolness masking an old-country sense of tragedy and suffering.

***

In Edinburgh Rainer delivered a lecture called “A Likely Story,” about the use of narrative in films. In the course of her remarks, she made it clear that her own “involvement with narrative forms” hadn’t always been “either happy or wholehearted,” but was “rather more often a dalliance than a commitment.”… Read more »

BACK AND FORTH (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin , September 1976, Vol. 43, No. 512. — J.R.

Director: Michael Snow

Canada, 1969

Dist–London Film-makers Co-op /Cinegate. conceived and executed by— Michael Snow. In colour. ed–Michael Snow. sd–Darvin Studio. with— Allan Kaprow, Emmett Williams, Max Neuhaus, Terri Marsala, Donna Aughey, Joyce Wieland, Louis Commitzer, George Murphy, Dr. Gordon, Liba Bayrak, Anne Scotty, Nancy Graves, Richard Serra, John Giorno, Paul Iden, Alison Knowles, Jud Yalkut, Susan Ay-O, Mac, students in the HEP program at Farleigh Dickinson University. 1,872 ft. 52 mins.

(16 mm.)

Alternative titleBack and Forth

The camera pans back and forth across an outside wall of a classroom while a man crosses part of the field. The pan resumes inside the classroom in a fixed trajectory, revealing an asymmetrical area including part of a blackboard and a door on a far wall, two pairs of windows on the wall closer to the camera, and desks in front of the blackboard; trees, building and occasionally passing vehicles are partially visible through the doors and windows.

Throughout, one hears the sound of the camera’s mechanisms, including a loud report at the beginning and end of each pan. Various cuts emphasise that certain parts of individual pans, or entire pans, or a number in series, were filmed at different times.… Read more »

WAVELENGTH (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 493). –- J.R.

Wavelength
Canada, 1967

Director: Michael Snow

Dist–London Film-makers Co–op. conceived and executed by—Michael Snow. In color. ed–Michael Snow. song—“Strawberry Fields Forever” by John Lennon, Paul McCartney. performed by—The Beatles. sd–_Michael Snow. l.p–Hollis Frampton (Man Who Dies), Amy Taubin (Woman on Phone). 1,538 ft. 45 min. (16 mm.).

A camera zooms across the length of an 80-foot urban loft, beginning from a distance approximating the camera’s fixed. Position — where most of the room is visible — and proceeding towards the four vertical double-windows, three intervening sections of wall space, desk, chairs and radiator on the opposite side, accompanied on the soundtrack by a sine wave gradually progressing from its lowest note (50 cycles per second) to its highest (12,000 cycles per second). The zoom mainly proceeds through a series of periodic jerks, between occasional shot changes, while the images pass through a variety of colored filters, film stocks, and qualities and degrees of processing (positive and negative)and light exposure (controlled by the camera, four light fixtures on the ceiling, and the time of day). It is interrupted four times by a visible human event, and during each of these the sine wave is overlaid with synchronized sound: (1) A woman and two men enter the room, and the former directs the latter to set a bookshelf down against the wall on screen left; all three leave.… Read more »

Notes on 2 D’Arrast films

Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1897-1968) made eight films, all between 1927 and 1935, and apparently some of these are lost. (He was fired from the early talkie Raffles — which seems to retain a few d’Arrastian qualities — and replaced by George Fitzmaurice, and reportedly he also did some uncredited work on Wings.) I’ve seen three of his films — the two briefly described below (both for the 2009 catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna) and Topaze (1933) — and all of them are pretty remarkable. (The latter is a Pagnol adaptation with one of John Barrymore’s most touching performances.) As far as I know, the only one who ever wrote about this figure in any detail was Herman G. Weinberg in Saint Cinema. According to Pierre Rissient, who knows a lot about d’Arrast (and passionately denies that he was antisemitic — a gossipy accusation I’ve sometimes heard about him, presumably as a partial explanation for why he fought as often as he did with producers), d’Arrast also had a lot to do with the preparation of one of my favorite musicals, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum! (1933), which wound up being directed by Lewis Milestone.

The following capsules were written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in June 2009.Read more »

W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1975, Vol. 42, No. 500. — J.R.

W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings

 

 

 

U.S.A..1975

Director: John G. Avildsen

 

 

 

Cert—A. dist–Fox-Rank. p.c–20th Century-Fox. exec. p–Steve

Shagan. p–Stanley S. Canter. p. manager–William C. Davidson. asst. d

–Ric Rondell, Jerry Grandey. sc–Thomas Rickman. ph–Jim Crabe.

col–TVC; prints by DeLuxe. ed–Richard Halsey, Robbe Roberts. a.d

Larry Paull. set dec–JimBerkey. sp. effects–Milt Rice. m–Dave Grusin.

songs–“Hound Dog” by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, sung by Elvis

Presley; “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” by Calvin Carter, James

Hudson; “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry; “Bye Bye Love” by

Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant; “I’m Walkin’” by Antoine “Fats”

Domino, Dave Bartholomew; “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Lee Perkins;

“Mama Was a Convict” by Tom Rickman, Tim Mclntire; “A Friend” by

Jerry Reed; “Dirty Car Blues” (traditional), performed by Furry Lewis.

cost–Dick LaMotte. titles–PacificTitle. sd. rec–Bud Alper. sd. re-rec

Don Bassman. stunt co-ordinator–Hal Needham.… Read more »

AFTER HOURS

From Monthly Film Bulletin, July 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 510). I’ve made a couple of corrections and added several basic credits, visible now at the end of my VHS copy but not accessible to me back in 1976. (I should add that the pitches made by the coproducer to potential sponsors aren’t on the VHS version.) Thanks to Ehsan Khoshbakht for some help with the illustrations.–- J.R.

After Hours

U.S.A., 1961
Director: Shepard Traube

Dist–TCB. p–Shepard Traube, Arthur Small. sc–Arthur Small. p. sup– George Goodman. ph–Arthur Ornitz. ed–Morton Fallick. sd–Robert Lessner, Frank J. Gaily. m/songs—“Lover Man” by Jimmy Davis, Roger “Ram” Ramirez, Jimmy Sherman, “Sunday” by Chester Conn, Ned Miller, Bennie Krueger, Jule Styne, “Just You, Just Me” by Jesse Greer, Raymond Klages, “Taking a Chance on Love” by Vernon Duke, John Latouche, Ted Fetter, performed by Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), Roy Eldridge (trumpet, vocals), Johnny Guarnieri (piano), Barry Galbraith (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), Cozy Cole (drums), Carol Stevens (vocals). l.p— Meredith Gaynes (Cigarette Girl), Albert Minns (Head Waiter), Leon James (Doorman), Richard Blackmarr (Bartender). narrator— William B. Williams. 967 ft. 27 mins.… Read more »

One man’s meat is another man’s Poisson (GRAVITY’S RAINBOW)

This is by far the most challenging book review I’ve ever had to write. I wrote it during my extended stint in Paris (1969-74), after requesting the assignment from an editor at The Village Voice. I was already a big Pynchon fan by then, having already reviewed The Crying of Lot 49 for my college newspaper, The Bard Observer. Years later, I would review both Vineland and Against the Day for the Chicago Reader, Mason & Dixon for In These Times, and Inherent Vice for Slate.

 

 

Eventually, after getting assigned to review Gravity’s Rainhow for the Voice in  1973, I received a copy of the bound, uncorrected galleys resembling the one seen below on the right, the marked-up copy of which I still possess today. One significant difference between this version and the published one is the epigraph preceding the fourth and final section, “The Counterforce”. In the published version, which I received shortly before completing my review, this is, “What?” — Richard M. Nixon. In the uncorrected proofs, this is, “She has brought them to her senses, /They have laughed inside her laughter, /Now she rallies her defenses, /For she fears someone will ask her /For eternity — /And she’s so busy being free….”… Read more »

Redirecting the Canon

From the Chicago Reader (August 9, 1996). — J.R.

Red Hollywood

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Thom Andersen and Noël Burch

Narrated by Billy Woodberry.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

When Peter Wollen wrote about canon formation in the English film magazine Sight and Sound three years ago, he conceptualized “a motley set of cultural gate-keepers and taste-makers.” Archivists come first, determining which films to acquire, preserve, and screen; then come the academics and critics, singling out the touchstones and masterpieces; they’re followed by filmmakers and, finally, the audience. As Wollen notes, “The process of cultural negotiation among these many gate-keepers of taste results not only in the surface phenomena of lists and programs, but also in the crystallization of an implicit aesthetic paradigm at a deeper level.”

I can think of several sources critical to the formation of my own canon. When I was in my early teens, the only sources I could find were library books like Arthur Knight’s The Liveliest Art, which is useful as a beginner’s survey, and Agee on Film, which is hampered by its limited coverage. During my freshman year in college I purchased my first film magazine: the Winter 1961-’62 issue of Sight and Sound, which contained the results of an international poll of critics about the ten best movies ever made; I resolved to see as many movies on the composite and individual lists as possible.… Read more »

Stargazer: Andy Warhol’s World and his Films

From Film Quarterly (Spring 1974). I wrote this review while I was living in Paris, which made acquiring a review copy especially difficult. (I grimly recall even getting into something resembling a fistfight with the French distributor of the book, who didn’t want to give me one and blew a fuse when I insisted, even though I had an assignment.) Stephen Koch, whom I knew from my previous stint as a graduate student at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, was a friend at the time, as was Annette Michelson, who commissioned the book for Praeger. My second-hand assessment of **** (Four Stars) came from another friend, Lorenzo Mans, who saw the entire film and reviewed it for the Village Voice, though I had attended a New York screening of Blue Movie, when it went by the title Fuck. -– J.R.

STAR-GAZER:

ANDY WARHOL’S WORLD AND HIS FILMS

BY Stephen Koch. New York: Praeger. $8.95.

Books about filmmakers that do something more than regurgitate filmographies and sketch career summaries are not exactly plentiful these days, and for this reason alone Stargazer is worthy of serious attention. What it attempts is not a mere pigeon-holing of Warhol’s films but a complex assessment of his persona and its accompanying strategies — in, through and beyond these films — as they flourished in the sixties.… Read more »

Great Expectations

From the Chicago Reader (January 19, 1998). — J.R.

great_expectations1

A reductio ad absurdum of the recent trend of idea-starved producers to plunder 19th-century English fiction — a movement that to my mind has justified itself only with Clueless, and in this case makes Charles Dickens look like a weak second cousin to John Grisham. In fact, so little of the novel is dealt with in this updated adaptation, and so much of that little is mauled, that it might have made more sense to do a remake of Youngblood Hawke, the sort of wet dream this movie is really craving to approximate. Ethan Hawke plays a young gulf-coast artist (formerly known as Pip) lured to the Big City, Gwyneth Paltrow plays cruel Estella (the only character allowed to keep the same name), and Anne Bancroft can’t be blamed for the incoherent version of Miss Havisham assigned to her by Mitch Glazer’s stupid script (though perhaps Robert De Niro, playing the convict, can be blamed for reminding us of Cape Fear). A horrendous effort all around, though a couple of the locations — notably a Venetian Gothic mansion on Sarasota Bay — are suggestive. Alfonso Cuaron, who did a far better job with A Little Princess, directed.… Read more »