Daily Archives: August 14, 2020

Hell on Wheels

From the March 1, 1996 issue of the Chicago Reader. —J.R.

Taxi Driver

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Written by Paul Schrader

With Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris, Steven Prince, and Martin Scorsese.

Perhaps the most formally ravishing — as well as the most morally and ideologically problematic — film ever directed by Martin Scorsese, the 1976 Taxi Driver remains a disturbing landmark for the kind of voluptuous doublethink it helped ratify and extend in American movies. Of all Scorsese’s movies, Taxi Driver — being screened this week at the Music Box in a 20th-anniversary “restoration” that’s in stereo for the first time — is for me the most seductive, though I wouldn’t call it either his best film (I’d choose the underrated The King of Comedy) or his most gut-wrenching (I’d pick the overrated Raging Bull). Most of the glamorous depictions of hell on earth and odes to stoical despair about a postapocalyptic civilization found in monuments to capitalist-urban squalor, including Blade Runner and Seven, can be traced back to Taxi Driver, and if it continues to exert an enormous claim on our imagination, this is surely because we continue to live in its vengeful, puritanical fantasies — as well as with the dire consequences of those fantasies.… Read more »

A Stylist Hits His Stride (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND)

From the March 19, 2004 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Michel Gondry

Written by Charlie Kaufman, Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth

With Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;

“Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;”

Desires compos’d, affections ever ev’n,

Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav’n.


–Alexander Pope, “Eloisa to Abelard” (1717)

Only once in a blue moon does a screenwriter who isn’t a director become known as an auteur. Plenty of distinctive movie writers have reputations as actors or as actor-directors, starting with such giants as D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Erich von Stroheim, but they’re rarely celebrated for their writing. You have to go back to Robert Towne, who’s done only a little directing, and Paddy Chayefsky, who never did anything but write and produce, to find auteurs known mainly as writers.

A Chayefsky movie isn’t hard to identify, but I think it’s safe to say that these days a Charlie Kaufman movie is even more recognizable.… Read more »

MON ONCLE

Written in 2013 for a 2019 Taschen publication. — J.R.

mononcle-arpel&Hulot

mon-oncle2

Mon Oncle

1. Preparations and Preludes

A lot of thoughts and deliberations preceded each of Tati’s half-dozen features, which is one of the reasons why a fairly long stretch of time would elapse between any two of them. The longest of these stretches occurred between the release of Les Vacances de M. Hulot in March 1953 and the first day of shooting on Mon Oncle in July 1956, but his thoughts and deliberations about his next feature occupied only part of his time. During those same three years, Tati also had a good many personal matters to attend to. There was his newfound celebrity, which led to a great deal of foreign travel, many offers of various kinds, and several contacts with young people who wanted to work for him: among those he hired during this period were the future writer-director-star Pierre Etaix, who joined his staff and eventually became one of the two assistant directors on Mon Oncle (and also played a cameo in which he imitates the sound of a chicken); the future screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, whose first serious job was writing the commissioned novelization of Les Vacances (and who would later write a novelization of Mon Oncle  for Tati as well); and a young writer whose first novel impressed Tati, Jean L’Hôte, whom Tati engaged to collaborate with him and Jean Lagrange on the screenplay for Mon Oncle.… Read more »

My Dozen Favorite Non-Region-1 Box Sets

From DVD Beaver (posted June 2008). Some of these listings may be out of date — and in the case of Godard’s Histoire(s), superseded by subsequent American and/or Blu-Ray editions. —  J.R.

Coming up with my favorite box sets from abroad is a far cry from compiling a list of my favorite films on DVD, foreign or otherwise, even if some of my favorite films are represented here. The problem is, as Mick Jagger puts it, you can’t always get what you want. To start with an extreme example, my favorite Hou Hsiao-hsien film is most likely The Puppetmaster (1993), but my least favorite of all the DVDs of Hou films in my collection happens to be the Winstar edition of that film. It’s so substandard —- not even letterboxed, and packaged so clumsily — that I’m embarrassed to find myself quoted on the back of the box, especially with the quotation mangled into tortured grammar.

I’ve aimed for a certain geographical spread as well as some generic balance: popular comedies, art films, experimental films, and one serial; DVDs from Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Admittedly, roughly half of my selections come from France, and a quarter of them, to my surprise, comes from a single label, Gaumont —- maybe because this blockbuster company seems to specialize in blockbuster box sets.… Read more »