Tracy Young, my editor at Soho News in 1980-81, accorded me an unusual amount of freedom and a minimum of editing (which often amounted to the same thing), but she didn’t allow me to publish this article, written in July 1981. She approved it in principle when I proposed it, then refused it after it was written — the first and only time this happened during my year and a half on this weekly paper, where I was working as both a film and book reviewer. Later on, she wound up ripping out (or, in capitalist terms, salvaging) the reviews of Zorro, the Gay Blade and Heart to Heart, and running them on August 4, 1981 with Seth Cagin’s review of Victory, under the title “Transcendental Cuisine,” without explanation.
At the suggestion of Straub and Huillet themselves, this article was later included in a 20-page tabloid-size publication that I edited about their work to accompany the first (and, I believe, to date, only) full U.S. retrospective of their work, which I curated, at the Public Theater in New York, from November 2-14, 1982, which also included ten programs consisting of films by others that they selected to run with their own work, ranging from Blind Husbands to Antonio das Mortes to A King in New York to Civil War (the John Ford episode in How the West Was Won, shown with A Corner in Wheat and Land without Bread), and including several appearances by and discussions with Straub and Huillet.… Read more »
From the July-August 1974 Film Comment. Portions of this column (one of my best, and crankiest) have appeared elsewhere, including on this site, but this is the full version. -– J.R.
February 16: Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR. As a friend has pointed out, Chaplin doesn’t really belong to the history of cinema; he belongs to history. What for another artist might only come across as misjudgment, naïveté or bad taste often registers in a Chaplin film as personal/ historical testimony of the most candid and searing sort. Thus the total inadequacy of his impassioned speech at the end of THE GREAT DICTATOR — as art, as thought, as action, as anything — becomes the key experience that the film has to offer, revealing the limitations of human utterance in face of the unspeakable. For roughly two hours, ChapIin has been trying to defeat Hitler by using every trick that he knows; finally exhausting his capacities for comedy and ridicule, and realizing that neither is enough, he turns to us in his own person and tries even harder, making a direct plea for hope. But while he effectively annihilates the Tramp before our eyes, he simultaneously recreates him in a much more profound way, exposing the brutal fact of his own helplessness.… Read more »