Monthly Archives: March 2019

Imported From Hong Kong [MR. COCONUT & KING OF CHESS]

From the Chicago Reader (March 20, 1992). — J.R.

 

MR. COCONUT

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Clifton Ko

Written by Ko, Michael Hui, and Raymond Wong

With Hui, Wong, Olivia Cheng, Ricky Hui, Maria Cordero, and Joi Wong.

KING OF CHESS

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Yim Ho and Tsui Hark

Written by Yim and Tony Leung

With Leung, John Sham, Yong Lin, Yia Ho, King Shin Chien, and Chan Koon Cheung.

450c5e100a576972b5dc85c0a24988d7 Mr. Coconut[DVDRip]

Past, present or future . . . China will always belong to the Chinese people. — opening title in King of Chess

In this country there is probably no important national cinema more neglected than the Chinese — actually a transnational entity, as I’m defining it here, including movies from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. And probably no programmer in this country is more dedicated to making Chinese cinema known than Barbara Scharres, director of the Film Center.

I have to admit to a certain resistance to Chinese cinema in the past, and to Hong Kong movies in particular. It’s a bias shared by many of my colleagues, for reasons that are in part self-serving: if we were to suddenly acknowledge the importance of Hong Kong movies, we’d be forced to acknowledge many years of negligence on our part, and obliged to admit an embarrassing lack of knowledge and sophistication on the subject.… Read more »

Luc Moullet’s Short Manifesto

From Cinema Scope No. 45, Winter 2011. -– J.R.

As a postscript to and short commentary on the closing section of Ted Fendt’s interview with Luc Moullet in the previous issue of Cinema Scope, l’d like to propose that (a) Moullet’s two most recent shorts, Toujours moins and Chef-d’oeuvre?, provide a kind of summary of Moullet’s work as a whole, by focusing respectively on economy and art, and (b) the second of these actually fuses these two concerns, offering not only a digest of his oeuvre as both a filmmaker and a critic, but also a short manifesto that exalts the importance of shortness itself in relation to his particular talents.

Moullet’s best work as a filmmaker can generally be found in his shorts — which makes it all the more regrettable that the Moullet box set with English subtitles includes only his features, and the sole collection of his shorts on DVD (Luc Moullet en shorts, 2009) is untranslated. The most important exceptions to this rule are Genèse d’un repas (1978), arguably his most profound statement about economy, and Anatomie d’un rapport (1976), but it might be added that many of his other best features, such as Les contrabandières (1968), La comédie du travail (1987), and Parpaillon (1993), are effectively collections of thematically related shorts, while some of his thinnest – – e.g.,… Read more »

England From the Inside

From the Chicago Reader, January 10, 1992. — J.R.

THE FILMS OF MIKE LEIGH

Among the buzzwords Marshall McLuhan coined in the 60s, “global village” has always seemed one of the more dubious. The naive notion that TV brings the whole world to our doorsteps — and presumably our doorsteps to the rest of the world — seems founded on assumptions that don’t bear close scrutiny. What do we mean by “the world,” for instance? And what do we mean by TV? TV may afford us some touristic glimpses of elsewhere, along with all the usual ideological baggage of the tourist, but when it comes to closer and better understandings of foreign cultures, I suspect TV may do more harm than good by fostering complacent illusions of knowledge: images wrapped in tidy American sound bites for easy consumption, postage-stamp peeks into worlds often defined in part by what we still don’t know.

What TV seldom offers us — unless we understand other languages and possess satellite dishes — is the rare privilege of overhearing other cultures talk to themselves, experiencing them from within rather than on our terms. To be on the inside looking out offers a different kind of knowledge, attained more by osmosis and intuition than by simplification, translation, or exegesis.… Read more »

Take That Corn and Shuck It

From The Soho News (September 8, 1981); tweaked a little on June 6, 2010. — J.R.

Comin’ at Ya!

Written by Lloyd Battista, Wolf Lowenthal, and Gene Quintano

Directed by Fernando Baldi

Take This Job and Shove It

Written by Jeff Bernini and Barry Schneider

Based on the song by David Allan Coe

Directed by Gus Trikonis

Let’s face facts. When notions of what a “good” movie is shrinks to the level of TV deepthink like Kramer vs. Kramer or Prince of the City, it may be time to bring the glories of the big-screen “bad” movie back again — at least if what we’re out for is fun and adventure. Unlike the most dutiful Oscar winners, whose notions of the good and proper usually revolve around the relatively straight and narrow, or the collected works of a Bergman or a Fellini that are even more consistent about their consistency — beating you into submission as they gradually meld into one all-purpose archetype — certain bad movies can boast range, unpredictability, and singularly distinctive tastes.

Indeed, a fascinating and suggestive literature has been accumulating for some time about bad movies, ranging from Jack Smith on Maria Montez to Myron Meisel on Edgar G.… Read more »

The Ten Best Jazz Films (1999 list)

Joseph McBride, a friend, asked me to contribute a list of some sort to The Book of Movie Lists (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1999), which he put together, and here’s what we came up with. -– J.R.

The 10 Best Jazz Films

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

What follows is a personal list of neither the best films on jazz (e.g., Jazz on A Summer’s Day) nor the best examples of jazz on film (such as the Fats Waller soundies or the 1981 Johnny Griffin at the Village Vanguard), but something more special and rarified: films in which the aesthetics of jazz and the aesthetics of film find some happy and mutually supportive meeting ground.

1.Black & Tan (DUDLEY MURPHY, 1929). Remarkable not only as an experimental narrative by the (often uncredited) main author of Ballet mécanique and as a radical political statement about to whom jazz belongs, but also as a ravishing, poetic marriage between the music of Duke Ellington and the poetics of death and orgasm. Only twenty-one minutes long, but the aesthetics of jazz and film start here.

2.When it Rains (CHARLES BURNETT, 1995). A twelve-minute miracle, and, alas, the only film on this list by a black filmmaker, this is a jazz parable about the discovery of common ‘6os roots via a John Handy album in contemporary L.A.,… Read more »

Wolfen Pleasures

From the Soho News (August 11, 1981). This film is available now on Blu-Ray. — J.R.

Wolfen

Written by David Eyre and Michael Wadleigh

Based on a novel by Whitley Streiber

Directed by Michael Wadleigh

Tarzan, the Ape ManWritten by Tom Rowe and Gary Goddard

Directed by John Derek

I Hate Blondes

Written by Laura Toscano and Franco Marotta

Directed by Giorgio CapitaniHeavy Metal

Screenplay by Dan Goldberg and Len Blum

Directed by Gerald Potterton         (opens August 7)

It was at the Cannes Festival in 1970 — a happy, unreal event — that I first came upon the awesome, utopian Woodstock, in 70mm and stereo, along with its pie-eyed director, Michael Wadleigh. He spoke beatifically about the convergence of art and politics in his press conference, and quite movingly dedicated Woodstock before its screening to the students who had just been killed at Kent State. After the movie, he passed out black armbands in the Grand Palais; I took one and wore it for a while. Eventually, some of the boutiques along the Croisette started selling them — which made it hard to know whether one was representing the New Left or Warner Brothers. I’m not sure that Wadleigh was entirely clear about this either.… Read more »

On CHAN IS MISSING and Wayne Wang

From Sight and Sound (Spring 1983). -– J.R.

Wayne Wang: Chinese structures and American economies

Opening with a rousing Cantonese version of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ which is all about inflation — the rising cost of tea and rice — Wayne Wang’s remarkable, offbeat Chan is Missing neatly combines its concern about what it means to be Chinese-American with the current economic crisis. Praised in these pages by Richard Combs after its appearance at the 1982 London festival as a film that ‘answers nothing, but in a way satisfies one’s curiosity,’ this black and white mystery, about two Oriental cab drivers searching for their missing partner through San Francisco’s Chinatown, has done surprisingly well since its U.S. release last fall, especially for an independent feature costing under $20,000. A strong review from the New York Times‘ Vincent Canby, coupled with careful handling by New Yorker Films, helped to turn the film into something of a commercial sleeper. ‘After the first quarterly report, we were already in the black,’ Wang cheerfully told me on the phone from San Francisco early this year, adding that the cast and crew members, who had originally been partially paid off in points, were already just starting to get proceeds for work done in 1980.… Read more »

Absence of Conscience [on GOODFELLAS]

From the Chicago Reader (October 5, 1990).  From the vantage point of  2013, The Wolf of Wall Street might be regarded in certain respects as an inferior remake of GoodFellas, with all the limitations of the original dutifully preserved. — J.R.

GOODFELLAS

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Written by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese

With Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, Chuck Low, Frank Sivero, and Debi Mazar.

Greed, indiscipline and amorality drench the money-military culture, in its upper echelons and in its pits. Somebody destroyed the national superego. Does anyone have a plan to make one anew? — from a recent editorial in the Nation

The opening, white-against-black credits of Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas whiz horizontally across the screen to the sounds of traffic in quick, isolated bursts, telling us at the outset that speed is of the essence. Using a cast of almost 150 players (including a delightful performance by Scorsese’s mother Catherine) and a sound track with about 40 pop singles that are both apposite and subtle in the way they comment on the action, Scorsese pushes the narrative along with a sense of gliding motion and legible fluidity that is often breathtaking.… Read more »

Wind from the East (A TALE OF THE WIND)

From the Chicago Reader (May 29, 1992). . — J.R.

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A TALE OF THE WIND

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan

Written by Loridan, Ivens, and Elisabeth D.

With Ivens, Loridan, Han Zenxiang, Liu Zhuang, Wang Delong, Wang Hong, Fu Dalin, Liu Guillian, Chen Zhijian, Zou Qiaoyu, and Paul Sergent.

http://www.sensesofcinema.com/wp-content/uploads/images/directors/05/37/ivens.jpg

The Old Man, the hero of this tale, was born at the end of the last century, in a country where man has always striven to tame the sea and harness the wind. Camera in hand, he has traversed the 20th century in the midst of the stormy history of our time. In the evening of his life, at age 90, having survived the various wars and struggles that he filmed, the old filmmaker sets off for China. He has embarked on a mad project: to capture the invisible image of the wind.”

That’s my translation of the French opening title of A Tale of the Wind. It follows the credits, which accompany shots of a plane flying through the clouds and Michel Portal’s primitive-modern jazz score for woodwinds and percussion. After the opening passage the giant blades of a Dutch windmill fill the screen, followed by shots of a little boy in an aviator suit on a windswept lawn, apparently preparing to fly away on a small plane to China, calling to his mother.… Read more »

Welles’s Anguish and Goose Liver: CONFIDENTIAL REPORT

This essay, a revised and updated version of my article “The Seven Arkadins,” was commissioned by the Australian DVD label Madman for their DVD of Orson Welles’ Confidential Report, released in 2010. — J.R.

Mr. Arkadin “was just anguish from beginning to end,” Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich in their coauthored This is Orson Welles, and probably for this reason, Welles had less to say about this feature — known in a separate version as Confidential Report — than any of his others, either to Bogdanovich or to other interviewers. Editing This is Orson Welles in its two successive editions took me the better part of a decade (roughly, 1987-1997), and one of the biggest obstacles I faced throughout this work was the paucity of specific details that Welles was willing to offer about this film. It was plainly too painful a memory for him to linger on, and he even spoke of being blocked in remembering certain particulars.

Broadly speaking, the features of Welles fall into two categories: those he finished and released to his satisfaction and those he didn’t. In the first category are Citizen Kane, Macbeth, Othello, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, The Immortal Story, F for Fake, and Filming “Othello”.… Read more »

The Unmaking of I’LL DO ANYTHING

From the January-February 2011 Film Comment. — J.R.

“In describing rarely screened movies like Lev Kuleshov’s The Great Consoler or Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik,” wrote a Boston Globe reviewer of my latest collection, “Rosenbaum is like a restaurant critic describing the mouth-watering meal he had at a restaurant that just closed in another city.” Since both films are available on DVDs with English subtitles to anyone who knows how to Google, this is a dubious compliment at best. But it might apply to the following, from my 2000 book Movie Wars: “Having had the opportunity to see I’ll Do Anything as a musical, I can report that it was immeasurably better in that form — eccentric and adventurous, to be sure, but also dramatically and emotionally coherent.”

I hope that someday Brooks can find a way of releasing his original cut of this film on DVD, though I’m told that the cost of the song rights might make this prohibitive. (Nine of these original songs are by Prince, and at least two others are by Carole King and Sinéad O’Connor.) So what follows is an attempt to explain what I like about a movie you may never be able to see, which is still my favorite Brooks feature.Read more »

Ritwik Ghatak: Reinventing the Cinema

This article was written in 2006 — specifically at the request of Ghatak’s son Ritaban, whom I met at the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea in the spring of that year. I was serving on one of the festival’s juries and also lectured with Ritaban at a screening of The Cloud-Capped Star during a Ghatak retrospective. Ritaban was then planning a critical collection about his father’s work, as a kind of follow-up to a collection of his father’s writings about cinema (Rows and Rows of Fences, published by Seagull Books in Calcutta in 2000) and asked me to contribute an article to it. But once I emailed this piece to him about half a year later, I never heard from him again, leading me to conclude that the critical collection project was suspended. So eventually I submitted this to my friend Adrian Martin, coeditor of the online Rouge, who published this in their 10th issue in 2007, about a year later. — J.R.

Ritwik Ghatak: Reinventing the Cinema

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

I have no way of knowing if Ghatak ever saw Jacques Tati’s 1953 masterpiece Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, but when I look at his second feature, Ajantrik (1958), it’s hard not to be reminded of it.… Read more »

Michael Roemer: The Man Who Knew Too Much

From the Jewish Daily Forward, January 31, 2013. — J.R.

MichaelRoemer

I’ve seen only two features written and directed by Michael Roemer — Nothing But a Man (1964) and The Plot Against Harry (made between 1966 and 1968, but released only in 1989). Either of these suffice to make him a major American filmmaker. And two other Roemer scripts I’ve read — one of which he managed to film (Pilgrim, Farewell, 1982), the other of which he hasn’t (Stone My Heart — undated, but apparently from the late 60s and/or early 70s) — show equivalent amounts of conviction, originality, density, and courage. But there’s a fair chance that you’ve never heard of him. And I think one of the reasons why could be that he’s a man who knows too much.

What do I mean by this? Partly that these films are politically incorrect (meaning that they all grapple with life while posing diverse challenges to people who think mainly in established and unexamined political and ethnic categories) and partly that in filmmaking we often confuse advertising and hustling with other kinds of talent — most obviously when it comes to the Oscars, but also when it comes to how we categorize and package various achievements.… Read more »

A Note on HOLY MOTORS

There’s a particular Parisian tradition that seems peculiar to French aesthetics involving a certain license to behave like a depraved lunatic and receive approval, endorsement, and other cultural rewards in return for this boorishness.(Many years back I tried writing about this subject, in a long review of My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud.) I suppose one very bourgeois way of describing this tendency would be to call it the aesthetics of self-indulgence combined with a gift for self-promotion, and though I don’t know French literature well enough to determine what poets might have established this trend (apart from such relatively modern figures as Baudelaire and Rimbaud), there’s no question that Jean Cocteau set down many of the terms and conditions of this tradition in cinema, along with the visiting Spaniards Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali — including, perhaps, a special talent for hustling up various forms of patronage.

Even though not all artists with these characteristics are French, much less Parisian, it could perhaps be argued that those who are commonly celebrated for these traits are typically appreciated either by French critics (Nicole Brenez writing about Abel Ferrara) or Francophile critics (such as Adrian Martin writing about Philippe Grandrieux, among many others).… Read more »

À la recherche de Luc Moullet: 25 Propositions

I had to retype this longish position paper  — published in the November-December 1977 issue of Film Comment — in order to digitize it for the manuscript of my  collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia, to be published by the University of Chicago Press in Fall 2010.  Going over every word of it again made me painfully aware of how many typos and other errors it had in its previous appearance. [8/14 postscript: My deepest thanks to Andy Rector at Kino Slang for adding the grubby still that originally ran with this article in Film Comment, thereby allowing me to add it here myself.]

This essay has a literal sequel, “Moullet retrouvé”.  –J.R.

À la recherche de Luc Moullet: 25 Propositions

1. “Every film by Gerd Oswald deserves a long review.” — LM, 1958.

2. Many of you, perhaps most, have never heard of the man. So much the better. Not all news gets into newspapers, and not all movies get into theaters. The sculptor Paul Thek once proposed an interesting solution to the newspaper problem to me: Get rid of all of them, except for one edition of one daily paper (any would do), and pass this precious object from hand to hand for the next hundred years –- then the news might mean something.… Read more »