From the Chicago Reader (December 12, 1997). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by James Benning.
I’ve been brooding a lot lately about the way in which many of the best movies around have been ravaged by “narrative correctness.” This is the notion fostered by producers, distributors, and critics — often collaborating as script doctors and always deeply invested in hackwork — that there are “correct” and “incorrect” ways of telling stories in movies. And woe to the filmmaker who steps out of line. Much as “political correctness” can point to a displaced political impotence — a desire to control language and representation that sets in after one despairs of changing the political conditions of power — “narrative correctness” has more to do with what supposedly makes a movie commercial than with what makes it interesting, artful, or innovative. Invariably narrative correctness means identifying with the people who pay for the pictures rather than with the people who make them.
Last year we had reviewers stomping on Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy and Tim Burton in Mars Attacks! for daring to move beyond their more lucrative formulas to try something different, though their crimes were crimes of subject and tone rather than of storytelling.… Read more »
Written for the magazine Forum and published there in 1984. If I still have the published version, which would pinpoint the particular month and issue, I can’t locate it (although based on a tip from Barry Scott Moore, I think it may have been the February issue). For better and for worse, this is probably the most popular item on this site. — J.R.
The white morning sunlight, intensely brilliant, radiates through the open window as he sits propped up with pillows. She, also naked, sits quietly in his lap, her legs folded neatly under her, facing and kissing him with little pecks through her loose and undulating tangle of hair, both of them intermittently moaning with contentment. The two of them are fucking — or so it seems. The movie is An Officer and a Gentleman. They’re in a motel bedroom. He’s an air force officer trainee named Zack Mayo, played by Richard Gere. She is Paula, his girlfriend who works at the local paper mill, played by Debra Winger. As Pauline Kael aptly describes her, she sports “the world’s most expressive upper lip (it’s almost prehensile),” which “tells you that she’s hungrily sensual.” (A couple of years back, gleefully astride a wild, mechanical bucking bronco in Urban Cowboy, her sensual greed was no less apparent.)… Read more »
The following was written in April 2010 for a projected volume on Stanley Kubrick that was being prepared at the time by the Chicago-based magazine Stop Smiling, who commissioned this and a few other pieces by me for it. For a variety of reasons, including the discontinuation of the magazine, the book has never appeared, and the editor, James Hughes, has very kindly given me permission to post it here. —- J.R.
Shelley Winters performance as Lolita’s Charlotte Haze offers one of the best refutations of the notion that Kubrick was a misogynist who could depict women only as bitches like Marie Windsor in The Killing or as bimbos. (Maybe Christiane Kubrick in the last scene of Paths of Glory, then known as Susan Christian, is another counter-example, but unlike Charlotte, she hardly has time to register as a character.) Winters’ overbearing yet highly vulnerable culture vulture, who has to bear the full brunt of both Humbert Humbert’s patronizing and his private scorn, is portrayed with genuine warmth and sympathy — indeed, more of both than can be found in Nabokov’s novel or original screenplay.
This friend and one-time flat mate of Marilyn Monroe, whose stint with the Actors Studio preceded and probably encouraged her own, Winters (1920-2006), born Shirley Schrift, has suffered no less from the stigma of playing dumb blondes when Hollywood sexism was at its height, implanting the similarly false impression that she was as dumb and as unlettered as her characters.… Read more »