From the September 1, 1995 Chicago Reader. I was shocked to discover that this is the only Kelly Reichardt film I ever reviewed in the Reader. Having just seen the amazing First Cow for the first time, I can’t understand how I ever allowed this to happen. If you decide to voyage out anywhere during the coronavirus lockdown, you can’t afford to miss this mysterious mind-bender and the singular world it simultaneously creates and discovers. — J.R.
A canny, contemporary portrait of shiftlessness, this adept first feature (1993) by American independent Kelly Reichardt, set in the Florida Everglades, is about people so bored they jump at the chance to go on the lam — taking off even before they’ve committed a crime. Reichardt has an original sense of how to put together a film sequence and an effective way of guiding her cast of unknowns through an absurdist comedy of errors. With Lisa Bowman, Larry Fessenden, Dick Russell, Stan Kaplan, and Michael Buscemi. (JR)
The cinema has produced few more impressive pieces of investigative journalism than this epic 1971 documentary by Marcel Ophuls — 260 minutes long, plus a 15-minute intermission — about the German occupation of France. Ophuls, son of the great Max Ophuls, devotes the first part to the fall of France, the second part to everyday life during the Occupation up through the Liberation. In both parts he focuses on the city of Clermont-Ferrand, not far from Vichy, and the heart of the film consists of relaxed interviews with survivors — French as well as German, resistance fighters as well as collaborationists — and newsreels and propaganda films from the period. The interviews are dated somewhat by the dearth of female subjects (only one out of the 36 principal speakers, and a Petain supporter at that); women are often visible, but apart from the occasional interjection they function mainly as domestic decor. One of the film’s abiding strengths is Ophuls’s refusal to rely on easy ironies or facile divisions between heroes and villains, despite his implicit emphasis throughout on ethical issues. Near the beginning and end of the film he employs the unsettling technique of freezing the frame while the subject’s voice continues, which suggests that even the “frozen” past still has fresh things to tell us. Read more
From the Chicago Reader in July 2000. — J.R.
With the possible exceptions of Killer’s Kiss and A Clockwork Orange all of Stanley Kubrick’s features look better now than when they were first released, and Barry Lyndon, which fared poorly at the box office in 1975, remains his most underrated (though Eyes Wide Shut is already running a close second). This personal, idiosyncratic, and melancholy three-hour adaptation of the Thackeray novel may not be an unqualified artistic success, but it’s still a good deal more substantial and provocative than most critics were willing to admit. Exquisitely shot in natural light (or, in night scenes, candlelight) by John Alcott, it makes frequent use of slow backward zooms that distance us, both historically and emotionally, from its rambling picaresque narrative about an 18th-century Irish upstart (Ryan O’Neal). Despite its ponderous pacing and funereal moods, the film is highly accomplished as a piece of storytelling, and it builds to one of the most suspenseful duels ever staged. It also repays close attention as a complex and fascinating historical meditation, as enigmatic in its way as 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Music Box’s weeklong Kubrick retrospective includes a new print of this and several other films, and it offers an excellent opportunity to reevaluate a filmmaker whose work continues to deepen after his death. Read more