From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 490). — J.R.
Director: Eddie Saeta
Before dying from an accident, Laura Saunders’ last words to her husband Fred are, “I’ll come back”. Unable to accept her death, Fred visits a number of fake spiritualists and death cultists until a classified ad (“Control your own reincarnation”) leads him to Tana, a friend and former lover of Dr. Death who brings Fred to one of Death’s ‘demonstrations’: a girl scarred by an accident is willingly sawed in half so that her soul can pass into the undamaged body of another women. Death dubs the reawakened corpse Venus and promptly becomes her lover, incurring the jealousy of Tana, who subsequently throws acid in Venus’ face. At a later meeting with Fred, Death explains that he discovered his power — based on a formula kept in an amulet around his neck — 1000 years ago, and his soul has survived ever since by passing into a succession of bodies of various races and both sexes belonging to his murder victims, He offers to revive Laura’s corpse with another woman’s soul for $50,000 and Fred agrees; but when Tana is garishly murdered for this purpose, Fred is appalled, and after Death fails to animate Laura’s body, asks him to keep the money and abandon the project. Read more
From Sight and Sound (Winter 1973/4). For a subsequent production story about this film written for Film Comment, devoted mainly to a day of studio shooting, go here. –- J.R.
Since the beginning of October, Alain Resnais has been shooting Stavisky, his first feature since Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968). ‘When Jorge Semprurn first spoke to me about making a film on Stavisky,’ Resnais said recently, ‘I admitted to him that at the age of twelve, in the Musée Grévin, I stood dreaming before the wax figure of this character, whom I compared to an Arsène Lupin swindling the rich and helping the poor.’
Actually, Serge Alexandre Stavisky (born in Russia as Sacha) was a swindler who sold 40 million francs’ worth of valueless bonds to French workers, but he moved about in high circles. In spite of a shady past, he was generally known in the early 1930s as a respectable financier with first-rate political connections, associated with the municipal pawnshop of Bayonne. When his fraud was discovered in December 1933, he promptly fled, and the police caught up with him in Chamonix the following month. According to official history, he either committed suicide or was murdered by the police, although the latter explanation appears the likelier one: the Paris press rather implausibly reported that he fired two bullets into his head. Read more
From the September 15, 1995 issue of Chicago Reader. —J.R.
Films by Marguerite Duras
It’s surely indicative of the scarcity of Marguerite Duras movies that even a dedicated fan like me has managed to see only seven of them — and for one of those I had to drive 100 miles, from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. No Duras film has been distributed in the United States for years, and in preparing this article I wasn’t even able to obtain a complete filmography; my own provisional list includes 20 titles, stretching from La musica in 1966 to Les enfants in 1982.
If one extends this list by adding adaptations (by herself and others) of Duras literary works, the scripts she wrote for other directors, and two films by Benoit Jacquot revolving around Duras, the figure is 31 films, most of them features. So it’s no small achievement that Facets Multimedia (which, thanks to the efforts of Charles Coleman, has recently featured such adventurous fare as Manoel de Oliveira’s Valley of Abraham and an exhaustive Nanni Moretti retrospective) will be showing a dozen films from this list over the next couple of weeks, most of them in brand-new prints and most of them four to six times. Read more
From Sight and Sound (Winter 1990/91). -– J.R.
It’s no secret that serious film criticism in print has become an increasingly scarce commodity, while ‘entertainment news’, bite-size reviewing and other forms of promotion in the media have been steadily expanding. (I’m not including academic film criticism, a burgeoning if relatively sealed-off field which has developed a rhetoric and tradition of its own-the principal focus of David Bordwell’s fascinating recent book, Making Meaning) But the existence of serious film commentary on film, while seldom discussed as an autonomous entity, has been steadily growing, and in some cases supplanting the sort of work which used to appear only in print.
I am not thinking of the countless talking-head ‘documentaries’ about current features — actually extended promos financed by the studios or production companies — which include even such a relatively distinguished example as Chris Marker’s AK (1985), about the making of Kurosawa’s Ran. The problem with these efforts is that they further blur the distinction between advertising and criticism, and thus make it even harder for ordinary viewers to determine whether they are being informed about something or simply being sold a bill of goods. What I have in mind are films about films and film-makers which seriously analyse or document their subjects. Read more
This appeared originally in the July 23, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.
Eyes Wide Shut
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Kubrick and Frederic Raphael
With Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Madison Eginton, Todd Field, Julienne Davis, Vinessa Shaw, Rade Sherbedgia, Leelee Sobieski, and Abigail Good.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
Writing about Eyes Wide Shut in Time, Richard Schickel had this to say about its source, Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 Traumnovelle: “Like a lot of the novels on which good movies are based, it is an entertaining, erotically charged fiction of the second rank, in need of the vivifying physicalization of the screen and the kind of narrative focus a good director can bring to imperfect but provocative life — especially when he has been thinking about it as long as Kubrick had” — i.e., at least since 1968, when he asked his wife to read it. This more or less matches the opinion of Frederic Raphael, Kubrick’s credited cowriter, as expressed in his recent memoir, Eyes Wide Open. But I would argue that Traumnovelle is a masterpiece worthy of resting alongside Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” Kafka’s The Trial, and Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl. Read more
From the October 22. 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Boys Don’t Cry
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Kimberly Peirce
Written by Peirce and Andy Bienen
With Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alison Folland, Alicia Goranson, and Jeannetta Arnette.
The Straight Story
Rating *** A must see
Directed by David Lynch
Written by John Roach and Mary Sweeney
With Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Jennifer Edwards-Hughes, James Cada, and Harry Dean Stanton.
The docudrama may be the key dramatic form of the 90s because of the extent to which its simplifications influence the way we make sense of the world around us. Not that we didn’t already have a habit of simplifying and therefore fictionalizing facts. There are perfectly good reasons most of us prefer to believe that one day in December 1955 Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, because her feet were killing her, thereby launching the civil rights movement. This story has a germ of truth, but Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. had mapped out their basic strategy for the Montgomery bus boycott at Highlander Folk School in Tennessee well before this incident. Still, the more folkloric, more dramatic version of the episode is the one that sticks — and the one that’s repeated by people who want to explain the civil rights movement in more forcible, more legible terms. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (August 10, 2001). — J.R.
There’s certainly a lot more footage — 53 minutes, to be precise — which makes this better in certain ways than the original Apocalypse Now, though the flaws are also magnified. (Kurtz’s Cambodian savages slaughtering a caribou — actually, it’s a Filipino ceremony — and kneeling before Willard and then laying down their weapons en masse seems even more insulting and ludicrous than it did in 1979; and the pan to The Golden Bough and From Ritual to Romance remains the most pretentious shot in the history of cinema, far worse than anything ever perpetrated by Antonioni.) Francis Ford Coppola’s guilty-liberal rethink of John Milius’s right-wing update and transplanting of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” to the war in Vietnam is above all an environmental experience, a theme-park ride enhanced by what may still be Walter Murch’s best sound editing (including some great use of the Doors) and Michael Herr’s second-best writing after Dispatches for Martin Sheen’s voice-over (all of it written long after the movie was shot). Looking for a responsible or even coherent account of that war here would be barking up the wrong tree, and the best way of glossing over this embarrassing lack would probably be to pretend, as many Western viewers do anyway, that this movie has no Vietnamese spectators. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (January 2, 2001). — J.R.
A brooding chamber piece (2000) about a love affair that never quite happens. Director Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong’s most romantic filmmaker, is known for his excesses, and in that sense the film’s spareness represents a bold departure. Claustrophobically set in adjacent flats in 1962 Hong Kong, where two young couples find themselves sharing space with other people, it focuses on a newspaper editor and a secretary at an export firm (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, the sexiest duo in Hong Kong cinema) who discover that their respective spouses are having an affair on the road. Wong, who improvises his films with the actors, endlessly repeats his musical motifs and variations on a handful of images, rituals, and short scenes (rainstorms, cab rides, stairways, tender and tentative hand gestures), while dressing Cheung in some of the most confining (though lovely) dresses imaginable, whose mandarin collars suggest neck braces. In Cantonese, French, Mandarin, and Spanish with subtitles. PG, 98 min. (JR)
Here are two recent valuable acquisitions I’ve made via French Amazon — Antoine de Baecques’s 940-page biography of Jean-Luc Godard, the first one in French (after two in English, by Colin MacCabe and Richard Brody), published by Bernard Grasset, and Godard’s 107-page “book” version of (or companion to) his recent Film Socialisme, published by P.O.L, his usual publisher, and subtitled Dialogues avec visages auteurs (literally, “Dialogues with faces authors”).
It’s far too early to make any sweeping judgments about either book — which would be presumptuous for me to attempt to do at any point, given my less than perfect French — but a few first impressions are in order. De Baecque’s biography is full of interesting details, in particular ones drawn from formerly unavailable or unfamiliar documents, e.g., a letter from Pasolini to Godard about La chinoise, and, roughly two decades later, a letter from Godard to Norman Mailer about some of his plans for King Lear. But it also appears that De Baecque can’t be trusted very much when it comes to his handling of American criticism about Godard. A minor complaint (which I hope doesn’t sound churlish, given how flattering he is to me elsewhere in this book): he claims, based on the French translation of my autobiographical Moving Places, that I spent “half my time in Paris between 1966 and 1968” seeing or reseeing Godard films on drugs; but in fact, apart from a couple of summer visits to Paris during this period (during which my Godard viewing goes unmentioned), my extended sojourn in Paris was between 1969 and 1974, and my accounts of watching Alphaville on grass and Band of Outsiders on acid on the pages he cites were actually in New York in 1965 and in London in 1970, respectively. Read more