From the Chicago Reader (January 7, 1994). — J.R.
One of the funnier remarks in Variety late last year came from a Universal Pictures executive who noted that because of the special nature of Schindler’s List his company wasn’t really promoting the picture, but simply informing people it was out. I’d wager that if the other movies on my ten-best list had been given the same amount of “nonpromotion” — one of those modest multimillion-dollar campaigns — you would have heard nearly as much about them. As it happens, only about half the items on my list have had — or are having — a normal commercial run in Chicago. Still, Bitter Moon, which has so far had only one fleeting engagement here (in the fall, at the Polish film festival), is expected to have a belated U.S. release early this year, and Silverlake Life: The View From Here was aired nationally on PBS.
The limited number of Hollywood films on my list and the prominence of Chinese language ones demands some comment. It used to be a truism that American cinema excelled in unpretentious entertainment but faltered when it came to art movies, while the standard line about foreign films — meaning the foreign films Americans saw — tended toward the reverse.… Read more »
From Sight and Sound (Autumn 1984). –- J.R.
D.W. GRIFFITH: An American Life
by Richard Schickel
Arriving on the heels of Donald Spoto’s Hitchcock and Richard Koszarski’s Stroheim, Richard Schickel’s massive biography of Griffith manages to steer a middle course between the compulsive narrative thrust of the former and the more scholarly negotiation of diverse hypotheses pursued by the latter. Grappling with a life and personality that surprisingly proves to be no less private and elusive than Hitchcock’s, Schickel confidently leads the reader through over six hundred pages of text without ever resorting to Spoto’s questionable tactic of baiting one’s interest with the promise of scandalous revelations. And if his scholarship in certain areas raises more questions than Koszarski’s -– see the helpful remarks of Griffith scholar Tom Gunning in the June American Film, particularly about the Biograph period -– he can still be credited with plausibly ploughing his way through an avalanche of contradictory and incomplete data.
Schickel’s task is, of course, more formidable than Spoto’s or Koszarski’s, encompassing some seventy-odd years and nearly five hundred films. Earlier efforts by Barnet Bravermann and Seymour Stern to compose a Griffith biography never reached completion (although Schickel has relied heavily on Bravermann’s material).… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 15, 1989). — J.R.
The core of Charlotte Zwerin’s exciting if vexing documentary about the great jazz pianist and composer — brought to us through the courtesy of Clint Eastwood as executive producer — is drawn from 14 hours of footage of Monk, in performance and offstage, shot by Michael and Christian Blackwood over six months in 1968. The musical value of this footage is so powerful that nothing can deface it, despite the best efforts of Zwerin to do so: all the worst habits of jazz documentaries in treating the music, from cutting off numbers in midstream to burying them under voice-overs (which also happens on the sound track album), are routinely employed; and, adding insult to injury, the film also takes pains to give us two Monk tunes performed only adequately by a contemporary piano duo (Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris) in unabridged form. The offstage footage of Monk and the accounts (by friends and family) of the mental illness that accompanied his last years are usually not very illuminating — although here the film at least has the virtue of not presuming to tread beyond the limits of its understanding — and there is virtually no analysis of the importance of Monk’s music on a technical level.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 12, 1998). — J.R.
From the Journals of Jean Seberg
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed and written by Mark Rappaport
With Jean Seberg and Mary Beth Hurt.
For most of the remainder of this month the Film Center is presenting the U.S. theatrical premiere of Mark Rappaport’s From the Journals of Jean Seberg, and using this occasion to show some other important programs as well. We had revivals of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, featuring one of Seberg’s key early performances, and Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), both important touchstones in Rappaport’s film — the second as a cross-reference to Seberg’s first film, Saint Joan. This week, in addition to seven showings of From the Journals of Jean Seberg (to be followed by four more over the next couple of weeks), there are two screenings of a brand-new print of one of Rappaport’s best narrative features, The Scenic Route (1978), along with his remarkable 36-minute tour de force Exterior Night (1994) — a noirish narrative about film noir in which actors filmed in color walk around inside vintage black-and-white Warners sets and locations from the 40s and 50s, shot originally on high-definition video in Germany, and recently transferred to 35-millimeter film.… Read more »