Daily Archives: February 16, 2021

1,000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), part two

This is the second part of the Appendix of my 2004 collection Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.

rosenbaum

1000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), Part 2

The criteria I’ve used for inclusion on this list are pleasure and edification; I haven’t factored in any sense of historical importance that might exist  independently of these factors. I’ve incorporated shorts as  well as features, both animation and live-action, and  videos as well as some works made for television, but not anything made for a TV series.

Broadly speaking, this list would comprise what I’d want to have on a desert island were it not for the fact that I’d want to bring along many other things that I haven’t already seen — including some of my more conspicuous omissions. No one who claims to have seen all possible candidates for the greatest films ever made could possibly be telling the truth, even in relation to a single year, and many of the exclusions here are things I haven’t yet caught up with. Many others are absent simply because I don’t value them as much as those I’ve included, and the most obvious limitation of this list is that it won’t be apparent in most cases whether I’ve excluded something because I haven’t seen it or because I don’t rank it highly enough.… Read more »

The Solitary Pleasures of STAR WARS

From the Autumn 1977 Sight and Sound.– J.R.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” reads the opening title, over vast interstellar reaches of wide-screen space. “I’ve seen the future and it works!” declares a happy teenager on his way out of the movie to a TV reporter in Los Angeles — oddly parroting what Lincoln Steffens said about Russia over fifty years ago, before Ford Motors gave the slogan a second lease on life. “Another galaxy, another time,” begins the novel’s prologue more noncommittally, carefully hedging all bets. But confusion between past and future, however useful to the tactics of George Lucas’s STAR WARS, seems almost secondary to the overriding insistence that whenever this giddy space opera is taking place, it can’t possibly be anywhere quite so disagreeable as the present.

“Rather than do some angry, socially relevant film,” Lucas has said, “I realized there was another relevance that is even more important — dreams and fantasies, getting children to believe there is more to life than garbage and killing and all that real stuff like stealing hubcaps — that you could still sit and dream about exotic lands and strange creatures.” Although garbage and killing are anything but absent from STAR WARS, and stealing hubcaps is around in spirit if not in letter, Lucas’s aspiration is easy enough to comprehend, even after the social interests of his THX 1138 and AMERICAN GRAFFITI.… Read more »

1,000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), part one

This is the first part of the Appendix of my 2004 collection Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.

rosenbaum

1000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), Part 1

The criteria I’ve used for inclusion on this list are pleasure and edification; I haven’t factored in any sense of historical importance that might exist  independently of these factors. I’ve incorporated shorts as  well as features, both animation and live-action, and  videos as well as some works made for television, but not anything made for a TV series.

Broadly speaking, this list would comprise what I’d want to have on a desert island were it not for the fact that I’d want to bring along many other things that I haven’t already seen — including some of my more conspicuous omissions. No one who claims to have seen all possible candidates for the greatest films ever made could possibly be telling the truth, even in relation to a single year, and many of the exclusions here are things I haven’t yet caught up with. Many others are absent simply because I don’t value them as much as those I’ve included, and the most obvious limitation of this list is that it won’t be apparent in most cases whether I’ve excluded something because I haven’t seen it or because I don’t rank it highly enough.… Read more »

Well-Done Debut (PARENTS) & Sex and the Single Codger (THE LAST GOOD TIME)

Here, for a change, is a double header — reviews of two films I’m especially fond of, both by Bob Balaban, made and reviewed about six years apart, Parents and The Last Good Time.

From the Chicago Reader (April 7, 1989). — J.R.

PARENTS

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Bob Balaban

Written by Christopher Hawthorne

With Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Bryan Madorsky, Sandy Dennis, Juno Mills-Cockell, Kathryn Grody, Deborah Rush, and Graham Jarvis.

Having already opened and speedily closed in both Los Angeles and New York, Parents arrives in Chicago under a bit of a cloud. Brilliant but uneven, this ambitious feature doesn’t have a script that’s worthy of its high-powered direction, doesn’t build as dramatically as it might have, and clearly bites off more than it can chew. But it is still the most interesting and exciting directorial debut that I have encountered in some time  — a “failure” that makes most recent successes seem like cold mush. Choosing a movie to take with me to a desert island, I would opt without a second’s hesitation for Parents over such relatively predictable Oscar-mongering exercises as Rain Man, The Accidental Tourist, or Dangerous Liaisons, because it’s a movie that kept me fascinated, guessing, and curious — even when it irritated me.… Read more »

ICONS OF GRIEF: VAL LEWTON’S HOME FRONT PICTURES (book review)

This is the uncut version of a book review written for Stop Smiling no. 27 in 2006 (“Ode to the Midwest”), which had to be cut at the last minute due to space problems. My thanks to editor James Hughes for granting me permission to print the fuller version here. –J.R.


ICONS OF GRIEF: VAL LEWTON’S HOME FRONT PICTURES by Alexander Nemerov. Berkeley: University of Calornia Press, 2005. 213 pp.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Most film criticism has been hampered by the habit of dealing with narrative movies strictly and exclusively in terms of their stories. What’s overlooked by this practice is the fact that virtually all films are made up of nonnarrative as well as narrative elements—what might be described as both persistence and fluctuation, or nonlinearity as well as linearity. Even though we often prefer to think we experience movies only as unfolding narratives—which is apparently why what most people mean by “spoilers” always relate to plot and not to formal moves—how we remember these movies is part of that experience, and this partially consists of static images.

Consequently, it could be argued that we need more art historians writing about movies and fewer literary critics who operate from the model of narrative fiction.… Read more »