Monthly Archives: April 2020

Responses to a Survey about the Pandemic

These questions were sent by Maya Bogovejic on April 17 for her Eastern European, online film journal Camera Lucida. — J.R. 


1.      How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your creative work/project/film (in its different phases)?
I’m troubled as well as delighted by the fact that the pandemic has been good for my web site, the center of my creative activities, insofar as more people currently visit this site every day. But what does it mean to say that anything that’s bad for humanity can be good for something else? Surely this must be the ultimate logic of capitalism — the same logic as saying that Donald Trump is “good” for “television” (meaning, I suppose, the few  billionaires who control television) but “bad” for “America” (meaning far more than a few of the people living in the U.S.)
All this means that the Coronavirus pandemic is forcing to the surface contradictions, inequalities, and injustices that have been around for some time but were much easier to ignore or rationalize when the state of things was simply “business as usual”. 
2.      How damaging (long-lasting…) will the consequences be for film art, film festivals, cinemas, coproductions, film centres, various film events…?
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Getting To Know The Big Wide World

From the May 27, 2005 Chicago Reader. — J.R.




Kira Muratova’s flaky 1978 feature, said to be her favorite, also goes by the title Understanding Life, but as often happens with her movies, appreciation ultimately triumphs over understanding. A loosely plotted comedy about a romantic triangle, set in and around a rural wasteland, it alternates between silence and sound, stopping and starting, with the cheekiness of 60s Godard. The relative chaos of the construction-site location, like the ones in Alexander Dovzhenko’s Ivan and Aerograd, is what Muratova seems to like most about this. As usual with her movies, the actors — including regulars Nina Ruslanova and Sergei Popov — are wonderful. In Russian with subtitles. 80 min. (JR)

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The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe

From the June 1, 1991 Chicago Reader. — J.R.


For his filmmaking debut, writer, actor, and stage director Simon Callow has taken on the celebrated novella of Carson McCullers, making some use of Edward Albee’s stage adaptation but paring away much of its dialogue, including the use of an onstage narrator. The grotesque plot, set in a southern mill town during the Depression, concerns a circle of unrequited love: an eccentric bootlegger and folk doctor (Vanessa Redgrave) dotes on a hunchbacked dwarf (Cork Hubbert) who in turn loves an embittered convict (Keith Carradine), once the bootlegger’s husband. The pain of all this builds to an excruciating and violent fist fight between the bootlegger and the convict, witnessed by the entire town. The three leads are superb, and Rod Steiger and Austin Pendleton are fine in small roles. If Callow accords his stars a few too many close-ups, he still does a creditable job of trying to get us to believe in a tale that is difficult to imagine without the fragile weave of McCullers’s prose (Callow evidently sees it as a fairy tale with elements of magical realism). His stage background helps as well as hinders: one never believes in the town as anything but a set populated by actors, but the concentration of his direction certainly solicits the utmost from his cast. Read more



My favorite Fassbinder feature (1973; not shown in the U.S. for years because of problems involving the rights to the Cornell Woolrich source novel) is a horrific black comedy — a devastating view of bourgeois marriage rendered in a delirious baroque style. Vacationing in Rome, a virgin librarian in her 30s (Margit Carstensen) meets a macho architect (Peeping Tom‘s Karlheinz Bohm) and winds up marrying him. It’s a match made in heaven between a masochist and a sadist, with the husband’s contempt and absurdly escalating demands received by the fragile heroine as her proper due. Suspenseful and scary, excruciating and indigestible, this is provocation with genuine bite — though the manner often suggests a parody of a 50s Douglas Sirk melodrama. (JR)

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Nurse Betty

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 2000). — J.R.


It isn’t surprising that John C. Richards and James Flamberg won the prize for best screenplay at the 2000 Cannes film festival; this offbeat and unpredictable comedy-thriller throws so many curveballs, one right after another, that I doubt I’ve had more fun at an American movie this year. You should know as little in advance about the plot as possible, so let’s just say that the title heroine (Renee Zellweger), a poorly treated housewife in a small town in Kansas who’s addicted to a daytime soap and smitten with one of its main characters (Greg Kinnear), drives out west to find him, with a couple of bickering hit men on her tail. The latter are played by Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock — who may be the most exciting tragicomic duo to come along since Martin and Lewis and at the very least deserve a sitcom or comic strip detailing their further exploits. There’s a lot going on in this movie about fantasy fulfillment and folie a deux in general, and one of the most remarkable things about it is that it was directed by Neil LaBute, the writer-director of the highly misanthropic In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors; this starts out with a similarly nasty edge and then turns warmer, funnier, and perhaps even wiser by the minute. Read more


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


David Mamet shares with Ernest Hemingway a mannerist style of macho dialogue made up of short sentences and repeated phrases that lends itself to self-parody as well as parody. In this second step down the ladder from the promise of his first picture (House of Games), he seems to be approximating Hemingway in his mawkish For Whom the Bell Tolls period. Joe Mantegna plays an alienated cop who implausibly discovers his Jewish roots through a couple of cases he’s assigned to, and finds himself manipulated as much by Jewish terrorists as by his superiors on the police force. Despite the occasional snap and crackle of Mamet-talk at its most surreal (“They couldn’t find Joe Louis in a bowl of rice”), the movie is just plain silly when it isn’t merely unbelievable (the usually astute Mantegna, alas, never once springs to life), with a good many unsuspenseful suspense sequences and apolitical political ruminations. W.H. Macy, Natalija Nogulich, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Vincent Guastaferro are among the costars (1991). (JR) Read more