From Film Quarterly, Spring 1984. -– J.R.
Two volumes. Edited by Jean-Pierre Coursodon, with Pierre Sauvage. New York: McGraw Hill, 1983. $21.95 per volume cloth, $11.95 per volume paper.
On the whole, Jean-Pierre Coursodon’s 874-page, two-volume American Directors is closer in genre to Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary than it is to Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema. Like both predecessors, it is an encyclopedia of opinions first and facts second — although, to its credit, it has many more facts per entry (in filmographies and career summaries) than either of the earlier monoliths. Like the Roud and unlike the Sarris, it attempts exhaustive surveys rather than suggestive critical miniatures, and is authored by many hands. Coursodon wrote 66 of the 118 essays and co-editor Pierre Sauvage, who furnished all the filmographies, contributed 13; the remaining 39 are by 20 other writers.
Again like the Roud, the Coursodon stands or falls as a compendium more than as a book with a sustained viewpoint; consecutive or continuous reading is neither recommended nor viable. Overall, the criticism is homogeneous, perhaps too much so: the standard auteurist form of career survey — already a bit fossilized — as developed out of Coursodon and Bertrand Tavernier’s Trente ans de cinéma américain (1970) and The American Cinema (1968) is so predominant here that other critical persuasions of the past two decades might as well have never existed. Read more
The following is from the [London] National Film Theatre’s program guide in December-January 1975-76, introducing a retrospective that I curated. If the valuation that I placed on Altman seems more idealized to me now than it did at the time, the fact that it came shortly after his best run as a filmmaker explains much of my enthusiasm. But my disillusionment with the media support of Altman already began to sour after I described at length the use of sound in a particular sequence from California Split to a BBC-Radio interview, only to discover that the broadcast version blithely substituted a different sequence from the film to illustrate my point, thereby reducing my analysis to gibberish. -– J.R.
While most commercial American streamliners turn all members of an audience into second-class passengers following the same route from an identical vantage point, Robert Altman’s multilinear adventures oblige us to take some initiative in charting out the trip -– supplying one’s own connections, and pursuing one’s own threads and interpretations in order to participate in a game where everyone, on-screen and off, is entitled to a different piece of the action.
Admittedly, this is a somewhat idealized description of an approach that is still in a state of development, and not every Altman film conforms precisely to this model. Read more
From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1975 (vol. 42, no. 502). This film has also been called The Death Merchants and The Spy Who Never Was. –- J.R.
Tod eines Fremden (The Execution)
West Germany/lsrael, 1972
Director: Reza S. Badiyi
Returning to Hamburg from a business trip, corporation lawyer Arthur Hersfeld is mistaken for Baruch Herzog, a non-existent Israeli agent invented by Israeli intelligence, and his cab from the airport is run off the road. He is given a lift into town by Amina, a French journalist calling herself Janine who works in the Arab underground and proceeds to investigate Hersfeld after dropping him off. Meeting her again, Arthur tells her that he knows she’s a spy, but a mutual attraction nevertheless develops between them. After a man named Zui Adam is murdered outside his home, and his office and house are ransacked, Arthur is questioned at the morgue by Inspector Barkan, who has been investigating Arab terrorist activity. Ordered to Berlin to kill Herzog, Amina buys a plane ticket for Hersfeld as well, and they have an affair; she talks about her family having been driven out of their home by Israelis and he tells her about his Jewish background, having been raised in New York after his father was killed by the Nazis. Read more