This film review appeared in The Soho News‘ November 12, 1980 issue. Agee (the writer) has long since then gone up again, considerably, in my estimation of his work. (Alas, the very pricey collection The Complete Film Criticism of James Agee, edited by Charles Maland, made it go down again.)
Ross Spears’ documentary about Agee, which was later nominated for an Oscar, can be ordered now on DVD, along with An Afternoon with Father Flye, from this site. —J.R.
A film by Ross Spears
Bleecker Street Cinema (The James Agee Room),
Nov. 14-16 and 21-23
When I first saw this feature-length documentary (which is now officially inaugurating the Bleecker Street Cinema’s small, additional screening room) a year or so back, I was pleasantly surprised to find Jimmy Carter — on the campaign trail for the Presidency in ’76 –- making a guest appearance. In the opening moments of the film, he speaks with real intelligence and sensitivity about Let Us Now Praise Famous Men –- an angry, experimental, unclassifiable work of reportage, poetry and analysis about three Alabama tenant families near the height of the Depression, with photographs by Walker Evans and text by James Agee. Read more
From The Soho News, March 4, 1981. — J.R.
By William Price Fox
Viking Press, $11.95
Any kind of sales talk, no matter how witty or effervescent, eventually goes stale or rancid in your head — until it is replaced by a new slogan. This is what Dixiana Moon is all about, and, just as unavoidably, what it’s like: drifts of euphoria that gradually work their way up to nausea, peaking in a blissful forgetfulness that efficaciously clears the way for bright new ideas to come along. It is also what journalism — a quaint subcategory of advertising — is about and like, this review included: a laxative for the imagination intended to move goods as quickly as possible, straight through the digestive tract.
Dixiana Moon is a quick and agreeable read, no doubt about that. One way or another, the whole novel is about packaging. The narrator hero, young movie freak Joe Mahaffey, has a lovable dreamer of a father in rural Pennsylvania, who keeps repackaging a nightclub in different décor — French, Spanish, Irish, Italian, and so on — while Joe Jr., hoping to win the affection of Monica Murphy (an “executive dancer” whom he crosses profesional paths with in Manhattan’s Danceland), signs on as a salesman for a packaging outfits, and peddles polyethylene bags in diverse spots east of Pittsburgh. Read more
From the July 1985 Video Times. — J.R.
An Almost Perfect Affair
(1979), C, Director: Michael Ritchie. With Keith Carradine, Monica Vitti, Raf Vallone, and Dick Anthony Williams. 93 min. PG. Paramount, $59.95. 1 1/2 stars
The seventh and possibly the slightest of Michael Ritchie’s features, An Almost Perfect Affair is a mild romantic comedy that qualifies as pseudosatire — that is, satire that couldn’t conceivably threaten or annoy anyone. Set at the Cannes Film Festival, and largely filmed on location there, the movie chronicles a brief affair between Maria (Monica Vitti) and Hal (Keith Carrdine). Maria is the glamorous wife of a wealthy Italian producer (Raf Vallone), who has a film in the competition. Hal is a callow American independent whose first feature is being shown at the festival. None of this is very believable to anyone who has ever attended the Cannes Festival professionally, but there’s little indication that it’s supposed to be. Much as Manhattan can be viewed in part as valentine to anti-intellectuals who want to feel intellectual, this movie, also made in 1979, is for people who will never go to Cannes but want to feel hip about what happens there.
Inverting the terms that such a comedy would have adopted in the countercultural 1960s, the movie presents the vulgar big-time producer as a man with patriarchal dignity. Read more