Monthly Archives: July 2020

Problems with Pasolini

From The Soho News (June 4, 1980). -– J.R.


Porcile (Pigpen)

A Film by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Bleecker Street Cinema, June 6



A Film by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Based on the 120 Days of Sodom

By the Marquis de Sade

Bleecker Street Cinema, June 11 and 12

“The problem with Pasolini,” a friend observed to me succinctly many years ago, “is that he wants to be fucked by Jesus and Marx at the same time.” A “pre-industrial,” populist poet and novelist from northern Italy whose relation to the Catholic Church and the Italian Communist Party were as passionately idiosyncratic as the homoeroticism of his films, Pasolini remains, nearly five years after his brutal murder, an indigestible provocateur in relation to our culture – someone who can be neither entirely absorbed nor totally rejected, but lingers like a troubling, irritating sore.

The recent and very belated release of his version of The Canterbury Tales (1972), the second part of his “trilogy of life” after The Decameron (1971), offers spectators a chance to catch more farting jokes than can probably be found in Blazing Saddles. His vastly superior version of The Arabian Nights (1974), which rounds off the trilogy –- probably the most sustained flirtation with paganism to be found in his work –- has yet to reach these provincial shores. Read more

Overrated Solutions [L’HUMANITÉ]

From the Chicago Reader (June 23, 2000); also reprinted in my book Essential Cinema. — J.R.


Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Bruno Dumont

With Emmanuel Schotté, Séverine Caneele, Philippe Tullier, Ghislain Ghesquière, and Ginette Allegre.

One of my favorite Italian novels, long out of print in English, is Carlo Emilio Gadda’s That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, a sort of Roman police procedural from 1946 in which the central crime never gets solved. The book is so beloved in Italy that it’s known simply as Il pasticciaccio (“the awful mess”), and when Gadda died in 1973 at the age of 79, it had gone through several editions.

William Weaver, who did the 1965 English translation, wrote in the preface that “Il pasticciaccio occupies in contemporary Italian literature the position that Ulysses, Remembrance of Things Past, and The Man Without Qualities occupy in the literature of their respective countries.” He also noted that many of Gadda’s other fictional works are “unfinished, but not incomplete. Read more

The Two Faces of Commerce

From The Soho News (July 8, 1981). From today’s vantage point (fall 2016), I think I was much too needlessly unkind here to Blake Edwards, not to mention Paul Schrader. But I would add that part of my charge against S.O.B. would apply equally well to The Player: the alleged hatchet-job is really a celebration, and one that depends on the hypocritical complicity of the viewer. -– J.R.



Disney Animation and Animators

Whitney Museum of American Art.

through September 6


Written and directed by Blake Edwards

Postmodernism is a jive-ass, commercially-minded, art-related movement which seems to be guided by three central tenets or market strategies” (1) if it works, it’s art; (2) if it fails, it’s politics; (3) if it sells, it works. It also betrays an overall yearning aspiration to reconcile radically opposed positions, like Karl Marx and Ayn Rand. (If you had to boil it down to a single tenet, perhaps this would be Total Gross Precedes Essence, with Existence left out of the formula.)

The spiritual home and stomping ground of postmodernism is Southern California, although a lot of its promotional rhetoric seems to get pumped through New York channels. Its principal aim often appears to be to destroy the individual and combined existential integrity of both art and politics by turning them into the two faces of commerce, this making them “available” (at a price) to everyone. Read more

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle

From the December 1, 1994 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Mrs Parker


Alan Rudolph’s 1994 feature about writer Dorothy Parker and the famous Algonquin wits she hung out with in the 20s certainly has its pleasures, but someone should tell Rudolph that, for all his skill and charm, period movies aren’t really his forte. As a clever postmodernist neoromantic, he’s much better at drawing on the moods of classic Hollywood to reimagine the present than at reinterpreting the past (as he also did in The Moderns, to similar effect). Jennifer Jason Leigh makes an impressive effort to copy Parker’s speech patterns, but her mannerist performance matches the claustrophobic ambience of the direction and script (by Rudolph and Randy Sue Coburn) by conjuring up a profile rather than a life or milieu. At its best this movie manages to be very touching, especially in its handling of Parker’s passionate platonic friendship with Robert Benchley (Campbell Scott); at its worst it shies away so steadily from her leftist politics that you will miss them entirely if you leave before the closing credits. With Matthew Broderick, Andrew McCarthy, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Beals, Sam Robards, Lili Taylor, and Nick Cassavetes. (JR)

mrsparker01 Read more

The Sweet Hereafter

From the Chicago Reader (December 28, 1997). — J.R.


Adapting a beautiful novel by Russell Banks, Atom Egoyan (Exotica) may finally have bitten off a little more than he can chew, but the power and reach of this undertaking are still formidable. At the tragic center of the story are the deaths of many children in a small town when a school bus spins out of control and sinks into a frozen lake (depicted in an extraordinary single shot that calls to mind a Brueghel landscape) and what this threatens to do to the community, especially after a big-city lawyer (a miscast, albeit effective, Ian Holm) turns up and tries to initiate litigation. Egoyan restructures Banks’s novel (which is narrated by several characters in turn and proceeds chronologically) into the kind of mosaic narrative used in his recent features and in most of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s novels (in which several different time frames and narrative lines are intercut and proceed simultaneously). He also adds some material about the Pied Piper, capturing the essence of some parts of the book but simplifying most of the characters and making the mountainous setting more mythical. Virtually all of Egoyan’s features revolve around emotional traumas, but this one seems less obsessive — for good and ill. Read more

The Bible

From the December 1, 1992 Chicago Reader. — J.R.


Not nearly as bad as it could have been. John Huston finally wound up as the director of this Dino De Laurentiis blunderbuss (1966), and the overall ambience is much closer to Huston’s high-toned literary adaptations than to Cecil B. De Mille’s biblical epics. Despite the title, the story only makes it through the first 22 chapters of Genesis. The script is credited only to Christopher Fry, but Orson Welles wrote most of the Abraham and Jacob episodes, removing his name from the credits after his ending to the Abraham episode was altered. Probably the best performance is given by Huston himself as Noah, in what is probably also the best segment; other actors include Michael Parks, Ulla Bergryd, Richard Harris, Stephen Boyd, George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, Peter O’Toole, and Franco Nero. 174 min. (JR)

the-bible-in-the-beginning-ark-image Read more

Two Weeks In Another Town

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1990). — J.R.

Though crippled by studio recutting that tried to adjust this neurotic 1962 melodrama for the family market, Vincente Minnelli’s adaptation of Irwin Shaw’s novel is one of his last great pictures, reversing the Henry James model of innocent Americans encountering corruption abroad — it’s the Americans who are decadent here. Intelligently scripted by Charles Schnee, the film reunites the director, writer, producer (John Houseman), star (Kirk Douglas), and composer (David Raksin) of The Bad and the Beautiful, describing the attempted comeback of an alcoholic ex-star (Douglas), asked to help a director friend (Edward G. Robinson) with a new picture in Rome, who encounters both his destructive ex-wife (Cyd Charisse) and a redemptive young Italian woman (Daliah Lavi) in the process. George Hamilton plays a spoiled young actor who falls under Douglas’s tutelage, and Claire Trevor plays Robinson’s wife. The costumes, decor, and ‘Scope compositions show Minnelli at his most expressive, and the gaudy intensity — as well as the inside detail about the movie business — makes this compulsively watchable. 107 min. (JR)

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The Willow And The Wind

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

Willow and Wind

Abbas Kiarostami wrote the story for this charming Iranian suspense picture (1999), reportedly for director Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon), though it was eventually realized quite competently by Mohammad Ali Talebi. A variation on The Wages of Fear, it follows a schoolboy assigned the task of carrying a plate-glass window several miles through a windstorm to his schoolroom to replace one that’s broken. The landscape is beautiful, and the tale itself is pretty mesmerizing. 88 min. (JR)