Two 2006 Reader film blog posts (& one afterword)

Difficult Becomes Popular


Posted Fri, Dec 8, 2006 at 11:21 AM


It’s interesting to see how some of the most difficult and challenging examples of art cinema have become increasingly popular over the past decade. Back in the 60s and 70s, Robert Bresson was virtually a laughing-stock figure to mainstream critics, and someone whose films characteristically played to almost empty houses. Yet by the time that he died, a retrospective of his work that circled the globe was so successful in drawing crowds that in many venues—including Chicago’s Film Center — it had a return engagement. Much the same thing has happened with Andrei Tarkovsky — another uncompromising spiritual filmmaker, and one whose films are even tougher to paraphrase or even explain in any ordinary terms.

I’m just back from a trip to the east coast where I was gratified to find, when I turned up to introduce a screening of Jacques Rivette’s 252-minute L’amour fou (1968) in Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image, that the film was playing to a nearly packed house. (Incidentally, this galvanizing love story about the doomed relationship between a theater director and his wife, played by Jean-Pierre Kalfon and Bulle Ogier, has never looked better to me, though I’ve been a big fan since the early 70s.) Virtually everyone stayed to the end, and there was a lively and enthusiastic discussion afterwards. Better yet, Rivette’s other major experimental work, his over 12-hour Out 1 (1971), was screened for the press in Astoria last week, and I’m told that over a couple of dozen members of the press turned up for the event. The public screening scheduled for this weekend was sold out several days ago, and A.O. Scott reports in today’s New York Times that a return engagement is already being planned for early March. (I’m told that the only thing preventing a Chicago screening is the hefty cost in this case of having to use laser subtitles — which appear below the screen rather than within the film frame, and have to be carefully coordinated to remain in sync.)

Avoiding Movies About Torture

Posted Thu, Dec 14, 2006 at 9:14 PM

One way in which I feel estranged from portions of the mainstream movie audience is my total aversion to scenes involving torture, which makes me avoid films involving them as much as possible. (I wound up seeing Pan’s Labyrinth, currently picking up lots of deserved annual awards, which opens shortly before the end of the year, anyway, but this is one of the rare cases where I consider the depiction of torture artistically defensible on some level.) I assume that a lot of people must like scenes of torture because of the success of Saw, Saw II, and presumably even Saw III. One can also derive the rather alarming impression from reading a lot of polls that much of the American public, while currently regarding George W. Bush as a liar and an incompetent, still seem to admire him for standing up for what he believes in even when he’s proved wrong, e.g., believing in torture even though it’s been demonstrated that the results of torture in extracting information are practically worthless and that most of the people being jailed in Abu Ghraib and perhaps tortured as well turn out to be innocent anyway.

This suggests that significant portions of the American public are quite happy to tolerate innocent Iraqis being tortured, at least as long as the details and the injustices of this practice aren’t being rubbed in our faces. But it seems like quite a few like fictional scenes of torture to be rubbed in their faces repeatedly. Not a very comforting thought to usher in the holiday season.

(Added on 7/27/09): Two old blog posts, one cheerful and the other one not so cheerful. Two postscripts to the first are worth mentioning: (1) The public screening of the almost 13-hour Out 1 in Queens was such a smash success (many people had to be turned away) that a second screening of it was subsequently scheduled and held. (2) The Gene Siskel Film Center also eventually showed it, laser subtitles and all — not to a packed house, but to a fairly sizable, dedicated, and enthusiastic one that laughed in all the right places.—J.R.

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