Daily Archives: August 29, 2020

Pleasures and Perils: Improvisation in OUT 1

Commissioned by MUBI Notebook and posted there on June 19, 2020. — J.R.




There’s a lot of confusion about what improvisation in movies consists of — when it is or isn’t used, and sometimes what it means when it is used. Those who think that the dialogue in Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind is improvised don’t realize that the screenplay by Welles and Oja Kodar with that dialogue was published years ago, long before the film’s posthumous completion. It’s worth adding, however,  that the film’s mise-en-scène was improvised by Welles on a daily basis. Similarly, those misled by director Robert Altman’s dreamy pans and seemingly random zooms in The Long Goodbye into concluding that the actors must be inventing their own lines are ignoring the careful work done by screenwriter Leigh Brackett, not to mention Raymond Chandler.


Many of those who associate improvisation with John Cassavetes — ever since he brazenly concluded his first feature, Shadows, with the printed title, “The film you have just seen was an improvisation” — don’t seem to realize that, long after the actors did their initial improvs in Cassavetes’ Manhattan acting workshop, most of the lines were set and even written down before the cameras started rolling.… Read more »


From the Chicago Reader (March 7, 2003). — J.R.

Gaspar Noé’s 2002 follow-up to his remarkable I Stand Alone is stupid, vicious, and pretentious, though you may find it worth checking out if you want to experiment with your own nervous system. As in the overrated and similarly misanthropic Memento, the episodes of the story play out in achronological order, from violent murder in a gay S-M club called the Rectum toward the rape and beating that motivated it and beyond that to earlier and happy times for the heroine (Monica Bellucci) and two of her lovers (Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel). The dialogue is mainly improvised, the sequences are mainly ten-minute takes (either real or simulated), and the aggressive 360-degree camera movements at the beginning are so disorienting that one can barely follow the action — though Noé grinds to a respectful halt to contemplate the rape and brutality. In French with subtitles. 99 min.

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Mortu Nega

From the August 1, 2000 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

One of the best contemporary war films I know is this singular 1988 feature, the first by Guinea-Bissau filmmaker Flora Gomes (Po di sangui). The first half, as elemental and as unadorned as Samuel Fuller’s The Steel Helmet, concentrates on women fighting alongside guerrillas at the end of Guinea-Bissau’s war of independence in 1973, attacked by Portuguese helicopters as they travel on foot close to the border. The second half, more diffuse and at times more rhetorical, deals with the ambiguous conditions of the war’s aftermath. The title means those whom death refused, and true to that notion the heroine (Bia Gomes) has been fighting for about a decade. Gomes (no relation to the director) manages to convey the loss of her children in a wordless and underplayed moment that shook me to my core. Flora Gomes appears in a cameo as president of a postwar sector. 93 min. (JR)

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