Monthly Archives: January 2021

Review of LETTERS FROM HOLLYWOOD

Letters from Hollywood:

1977-2017

by Bill Krohn. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020. 312 pp., illus. Hardcover: $95.00.

Long overdue, this impressive if pricey collection by the long-standing —indeed, longest-standing — American correspondent for Cahiers du cinéma is eclectically divided into four sections. After an Introduction consisting of a new five-page memoir (“How I Became the Los Angeles Correspondent for Cahiers du cinema”), a fascinating 25-page interview with Serge Daney (then the magazine’s editor) from 1977, entitled “The Tinkerers”, and a brief 1992 obituary for Daney, one encounters “Directors Who Started in Silents” (ten essays), “Directors Who Started in Talkies” (seven essays), “Directors Who Started in Television” (seven essays), and “Directors Who Counterattacked” (ten essays). 

These classifications can’t do justice to all that the book has to offer: even if one can puzzle out what Krohn means by “counterattack,” the first “director” he treats who “started in television” is Lucille Ball, justly celebrated for I Love Lucy rather than as a director, and someone whose career as a performer, as Krohn shows, actually began in theater, movies, and radio. But they do point up how original Krohn’s way of positioning himself often turns out to be. A Yale graduate who likes to apply some of the methods and lessons of Harold Bloom, Northrop Frye, Mikhael Bakhtin, and Roland Barthes to artists in (or just off) the American mainstream, ranging from Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock, and Walsh to Blake Edwards, John Frankenheimer, Monte Hellman, Phil Karlson, John Landis, Edgar G.… Read more »

“Homage to Carole Landis” by Donald Phelps

From Rouge No. 11, July 2007.

Introduction

Chiefly known as a B film actress who later played a few supporting roles in A pictures at Fox, Carole Landis (1919-1948) appeared in over fifty films. Almost half of these were uncredited before she achieved some recognition in One Million B.C. (Hal Roach, 1940), in which she and her co-star Victor Mature were both cast by D.W. Griffith (who filmed her screen test). She would work again with Mature at Fox in I Wake Up Screaming (a 1941 noir, also co-starring Betty Grable and Laird Cregar) and My Gal Sal (a musical biopic of 1942, also co-starring Rita Hayworth, in which Mature plays Paul Dresser – the popular 1890s composer and older brother of Theodore Dreiser, who started out working in a carnival). A feminist since her youth who tried to start a girls football team at her Wisconsin high school, Landis was born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste, and chose her first name because of her admiration for Carole Lombard. In 1944, she published Four Jills in a Jeep – a book about her first wartime USO tour, entertaining troops in England and North Africa – and appeared as herself in the Fox film derived from it.… Read more »

DVD Beaver Poll (2020)



Top Blu-ray Releases of 2020 

1.  CzechMate Second Run Features
2.  Cluny Brown Criterion
3.  House by the River Kino Lorber
4.  America as Seen by a Frenchman Arrow Academy
5.  Bless Their Little Hearts Milestone
6.  City without Jews Flicker Alley
7.  Vitalina Varela Second Run
8.  Le Petit Soldat Criterion
9.  Hollywoodland Kino Lorber 
10. A Bread Factory Grasshopper Films (includes 1 Blu-Ray, 1 DVD)

Top 4K UHD Releases of 2020

1. Sudden Fear Cohen Film Collection (my mistake–this was released in 2017)
2. Showboat Criterion
3. A Bread Factory Grasshopper Films (includes 1 DVD, 1 Blu-Ray)


Top Box sets of 2020 

1. Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Kino Lorber
2. The Complete Films of Agnes Varda Criterion
3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Archive)

FAVORITE LABEL: Arrow Academy

FAVORITE Commentary of 2020 (or commentaries): Jeremy Arnold, Sudden Fear, Cohen Film Collectiomn



Best Cover Design Nominations: The Complete Films of Agnes Varda, Criterion

Favorite DVD of the Year: Beau travail, Criterion… Read more »

Unfaithful

unfaithful

From the May 6, 2002 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Since I regard Claude Chabrol’s quintessentially French La femme infidele (1968) as one of his greatest films — making it all the more unfortunate for us (and fortunate for the authors of this remake) that it’s been unavailable for years — I was fully prepared to detest the Adrian Lyne version. Yet for roughly the first half of this 124-minute feature, I was pleasantly surprised, especially by the decisive shift in emphasis from husband to wife. Diane Lane, as the unfaithful wife of Richard Gere, gets to show off her magnificent legs at every opportunity — especially but not exclusively on her trips from her suburban home to the Soho loft of a young French hunk (Olivier Martinez) who sells rare books — and Lyne’s fancy cutting, honed on and still often resembling TV commercials, keeps this sensual in a way that the Chabrol movie never was. But then violence, guilt, and the husband’s viewpoint take over, Lane’s legs are sheathed, and the movie doesn’t have a clue about how to proceed. The original was a classically balanced and ultimately very satisfying work held in place by Chabrol’s love-hatred for bourgeois domesticity; the remake doesn’t reflect anyone’s love or hatred for anything, just a lot of anxiety about test marketing, which means it takes a nosedive when it goes shopping for an ending (I counted several, all of them ham-fisted).… Read more »

Michurin

From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2002). — J.R.

Alexander Dovzhenko’s first color film and last completed feature (1948, 103 min.) was based on his play Life in Bloom, a biography (verging on hagiography) of the celebrated Russian botanist Ivan Michurin. Both the play and its screen adaptation attracted the interest of Joseph Stalin, who dictated various revisions; in fact Dovzhenko may have removed his name from the film in protest, as the credits list his wife, Julia Solntseva, as director and identify him only as the producer and screenwriter. Certain characteristic touches show up here and there — some signature landscapes, a powerful passage evoking John Ford that shows Michurin’s grief over his wife’s death — but generally this is a feel-good Stalinist biopic. Perhaps the most interesting propaganda comes in the opening scene, when a wealthy American (speaking in English) attempts to lure Michurin to the States with untold riches. In Russian with subtitles. (JR)

Read more »

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

From the Chicago Reader (July 6, 2001). — J.R.

A collaboration between the living Steven Spielberg and the late Stanley Kubrick seems entirely appropriate to a project that reflects profoundly on the differences between life and nonlife, not to mention the human and the nonhuman. It’s easy to say that Kubrick thought about questions that Spielberg only knows how to approach emotionally, but that surely oversimplifies the range of both filmmakers. A more accurate way of putting it would be to say that Kubrick started this picture and came up with the idea that Spielberg should direct it, and after inheriting a 90-page treatment Kubrick had prepared with Ian Watson and 600 drawings he’d done with Chris Baker, Spielberg finished it in so much his own manner that it may be his most personal film, as well as his most thoughtful. It nonetheless delivers more of a posthumous statement from Kubrick than I would have believed possible, a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey and even Eyes Wide Shut (with an equally offbeat view of New York) as well as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. A film that might make you cry, it’s just as likely to give you the creeps afterward, which is as it should be.… Read more »

The Holiday Glut: A Cautious Consumer Guide

From the Chicago Reader (December 21, 2001). — J.R.

The Affair of the Necklace

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Charles Shyer

Written by John Sweet

With Hilary Swank, Adrien Brody, Jonathan Pryce, Christopher Walken, and Joely Richardson.

Ali

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Michael Mann

Written by Gregory Allen Howard, Stephen Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, Eric Roth, and Mann

With Will Smith, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Jamie Foxx, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, and Giancarlo Esposito.

Kate & Leopold

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by James Mangold

Written by Steven Rogers and Mangold

With Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer, and Philip Bosco.

Kiss Me Kate

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed by George Sidney

Written by Sam and Bella Spewack and Dorothy Kingsley

With Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Bobby Van, Keenan Wynn, James Whitmore, and Bob Fosse.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

*** A must see

Directed by Peter Jackson

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Jackson

With Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, and John Rhys-Davies.

The Majestic

Rating  0  Worthless

Directed by Frank Darabont

Written by Michael Sloane

With Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, David Ogden Stiers, James Whitmore, and Jeffrey DeMunn.… Read more »

Hamlet

From the Chicago Reader (August 17, 2001). — J.R.

  1. Hamlet

Critic Robin Wood recently cited this stunning 1964 Russian version of Shakespeare’s tragedy as the only one that “could be claimed as having the stature, as film, that the play has as theatre,” and it’s easy to see what he means. Shot in black-and-white ‘Scope, in dank interiors and seaside exteriors every bit as atmospheric as those in Orson Welles’s Othello, this runs 140 minutes but feels more stripped-down for brisk action than such vanity productions as Laurence Olivier’s and Kenneth Branagh’s, and consequently may be more compelling as narrative. Director Grigori Kozintsev (The New Babylon, The Youth of Maxim) adapted a translation by Boris Pasternak, and Dmitri Shostakovich contributed the score. Playing the title role, Innokenti Smoktunovsky isn’t as likable as some other Hamlets, but his struggles seem more evenly matched with those of the other characters. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Thursday, August 23, 6:30, 773-281-4114.

HamletRead more »

Swinging Both Ways [HIT AND RUNWAY]

From the Chicago Reader (September 7, 2001). — J.R.

Hit and Runway

**

Directed by Christopher Livingston

Written by Jaffe Cohen and Livingston

With Michael Parducci, Peter Jacobson, Judy Prescott, Kerr Smith, Hoyt Richards, John Fiore, and J.K. Simmons.

Hit and Runway — a comedy about a straight aspiring screenwriter in Greenwich Village taking on a gay playwright as a writing partner — comes from the writing team of Jaffe Cohen, who’s gay, and Christopher Livingston, who’s straight (he also directed). I knew nothing about this semiautobiographical movie until I saw it and nothing about the filmmakers until I looked at the press book, and I was fascinated to learn how semi the autobiographical aspects were.

That this movie exists at all deserves some consideration. It won a couple of festival prizes for best screenplay in 1999 and was copyrighted in 2000. I assume one reason it’s taken so long to get released — apart from being an independent feature without the clout of a major studio behind it — is the way it defies the assumptions of most publicists by refusing to address itself to either a straight or a gay audience to the exclusion of the other. It might not seem subversive for gay and straight viewers to watch the same comedy at the same time or even to laugh at the same jokes, but apparently this possibility conflicts with the way the big studios think about us as customers.… Read more »

Bad Blood

mauvaissang

One festival brochure described this 1986 feature as a dazzling film noir thriller, yet the distinctive talents of French director Leos Carax have relatively little to do with storytelling. The vaguely paranoid plot concerns a couple of thieves (Michel Piccoli, Hans Meyer) hiring the son (Denis Lavant) of a recently deceased partner to help them steal a cure to an AIDS-like virus, but the noir and SF trappings are so feeble that they function at best as a framing device, a means for Carax to tighten his canvas. The real meat of this movie is his total absorption in the wonderful leads, Lavant and Juliette Binoche, which comes to fruition during the former’s lengthy attempt to seduce the latter, an extended nocturnal encounter that the various genre elements serve only to hold in place. The true source of Carax’s style is neither Truffaut nor Godard but the silent cinema, with its melancholy, its innocence, its poetics of close-up, gesture, and the mysteries of personality. In French with subtitles. 119 min. (JR)

Read more »

In the Fray (Slate post, 2001)

In the Fray

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Dec 28, 2001 11:37 AM

Dear David, Roger, Sarah, and Tony,

I’m afraid that going to see Monster’s Ball or Black Hawk Down for the purposes of this exchange isn’t even an option for me. Neither has opened yet in Chicago, and though the first and possibly the second got special screenings for local reviewers willing to go beyond Chicago for their 10-best lists, I feel my first duty is to address what Chicagoans can see in my own list for the Reader. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing Monster’s Ball because of my liking for Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry, but the very thought of going to see any war film for pleasure right now gives me the creeps. Though, come to think of it, I’d probably rather see Black Hawk Down than even think again about Audition, one of David’s favorites — a movie whose view of mankind, including audience members, is for me a lot bleaker than anything found in A.I.

CODE UNKNOWN

Code-Unknown

On the other hand, like Roger, I could cite some first-rate movies that exist mainly on television, such as Spike Lee’s A Huey P. Newton Story (which I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival), even if it’s basically a record of a powerful performance by Roger Guenveur Smith, or Code Unknown, which I saw on the Sundance Channel (where it’s been playing for ages) on Christmas Eve, and which opens here theatrically next week.… Read more »

TENANTS OF THE HOUSE: A Conversation with Jonas Mekas (part four)

From Film: The Front Line 1983 (Denver, CO: Arden Press, 1983).

Although I still agree with most of my arguments here, it’s now clear to me that my characterization of Paul Schrader’s politics in 1983 were oversimplified at best, and simply wrong at worst. — J.R.

Film The Front Line 1983

                                      Tenants of the house,

    Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

                                       T.S. Eliot, Gerontion

Preface: When I was approached last year about inaugurating a series of volumes surveying recent avant-garde film, I immediately started to wonder about how this could be done. Having lived nearly eight years in Paris and London and about as long in New York, I’ve had several opportunities to note the relative degree of information flow between these and other centers of avant-garde film activity, and the growing isolation of New York from these other centers made my own fixed vantage point less than ideal in some ways. When a colleague told me that Jonas Mekas had recently said that it was no longer possible to know what was happening in experimental film as a whole, a bell of recognition rang in my head, and I knew at once that Mekas was the only available oracle l could turn to.… Read more »

TENANTS OF THE HOUSE: A Conversation with Jonas Mekas (part three)

From Film: The Front Line 1983 (Denver, CO: Arden Press, 1983). Due to the length of this, I’ll be posting it in four installments. — J.R.

Film The Front Line 1983

 

                                      Tenants of the house,

    Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

                                       T.S. Eliot, Gerontion

 

 

 

Preface: When I was approached last year about inaugurating a series of volumes surveying recent avant-garde film, I immediately started to wonder about how this could be done. Having lived nearly eight years in Paris and London and about as long in New York, I’ve had several opportunities to note the relative degree of information flow between these and other centers of avant-garde film activity, and the growing isolation of New York from these other centers made my own fixed vantage point less than ideal in some ways. When a colleague told me that Jonas Mekas had recently said that it was no longer possible to know what was happening in experimental film as a whole, a bell of recognition rang in my head, and I knew at once that Mekas was the only available oracle l could turn to. The Lithuanian patron saint of the American avant-garde film, now 60, has been an American filmmaker for at least half of his life, and a chronicler of the avant-garde film in New York — mainly in The Village Voice and (more briefly) Soho News — for at least 15 years.… Read more »

TENANTS OF THE HOUSE: A Conversation with Jonas Mekas (part two)

From Film: The Front Line 1983 (Denver, CO: Arden Press, 1983). Due to the length of this, I’ll be posting it in four installments. — J.R.

Film The Front Line 1983

 

                                      Tenants of the house,

    Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

                                       T.S. Eliot, Gerontion

 

 

 

Preface: When I was approached last year about inaugurating a series of volumes surveying recent avant-garde film, I immediately started to wonder about how this could be done. Having lived nearly eight years in Paris and London and about as long in New York, I’ve had several opportunities to note the relative degree of information flow between these and other centers of avant-garde film activity, and the growing isolation of New York from these other centers made my own fixed vantage point less than ideal in some ways. When a colleague told me that Jonas Mekas had recently said that it was no longer possible to know what was happening in experimental film as a whole, a bell of recognition rang in my head, and I knew at once that Mekas was the only available oracle l could turn to. The Lithuanian patron saint of the American avant-garde film, now 60, has been an American filmmaker for at least half of his life, and a chronicler of the avant-garde film in New York — mainly in The Village Voice and (more briefly) Soho News — for at least 15 years.… Read more »

TENANTS OF THE HOUSE: A Conversation with Jonas Mekas (part one)

From Film: The Front Line 1983 (Denver, CO: Arden Press, 1983).  Due to the length of this, I’ll be posting it in four installments. — J.R.

Film The Front Line 1983

 

                                      Tenants of the house,

    Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

                                       T.S. Eliot, Gerontion

 

 

 

Preface: When I was approached last year about inaugurating a series of volumes surveying recent avant-garde film, I immediately started to wonder about how this could be done. Having lived nearly eight years in Paris and London and about as long in New York, I’ve had several opportunities to note the relative degree of information flow between these and other centers of avant-garde film activity, and the growing isolation of New York from these other centers made my own fixed vantage point less than ideal in some ways. When a colleague told me that Jonas Mekas had recently said that it was no longer possible to know what was happening in experimental film as a whole, a bell of recognition rang in my head, and I knew at once that Mekas was the only available oracle l could turn to. The Lithuanian patron saint of the American avant-garde film, now 60, has been an American filmmaker for at least half of his life, and a chronicler of the avant-garde film in New York — mainly in The Village Voice and (more briefly) Soho News — for at least 15 years.… Read more »