From Cineaste, Fall 1995. — J.R.
The Films of Vincente Minnelli
by James Naremore. Cambridge University Press, 1993. 202 pp, illus., Hardcover: $65.00. Paperback: $27.99.
The critical position of James Naremore is Frankfurt school auteurism, a seeming contradiction. That is, he shares the Marxist orientation of many Frankfurt school intellectuals but not their disdain for the artifacts of mass culture. (To be sure, not all Frankfurt school members can be characterized in quite so monolithic a fashion; see, for instance, the prewar journalism of Siegfried Kracauer published this year in The Mass Ornament.) As a consequence, Naremore’s work shows an interest in style and pleasure that runs against the puritanical grain of most American Marxists, without ever losing sight of the social and political issues avoided by most American auteurists.
This is an idiosyncratic and progressive book in a series, the Cambridge Film Classics, that has mainly been conformist and conservative, especially in relationship to non-American filmmakers. Its volumes always focus on a few “representative” features rather than complete oeuvres, and Naremore’s study of Minnelli focuses on Cabin in the Sky, Meet Me in St. Louis, Father of the Bride, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Lust for Life, but only after an Introduction and first chapter that take up a quarter of the book and lay a considerable amount of contextual groundwork.… Read more »
This page of festival coverage in The Village Voice (June 17, 1971) appeared (without any photos) after my second trip to the festival; if memory serves, my first trip there, in 1970, yielded no writing at all. One complication about this piece is that Amos Vogel and I jointly discovered after arriving at the festival that a separate editor at the Voice had given each of us the assignment of “covering” the festival. After Amos checked back at the front office about this, it was agreed at the Voice that we both write coverage, about separate films, which we wound up doing for two years in a row.
I think this article manages to convey some of the political flavor of the early 70s, although it’s worth adding that all the films listed here with the exception of Sontag’s Brother Carl are currently either available on DVD or are about to be (e.g., Portabella’s Cuadecuc – Vampir, identified here incorrectly as Vampyr). Indeed, strange as it seems, the most “out of date” detail here is a single shot I describe in Cuadecuc – Vampir (“a ghoulishly made-up actress making a face at someone between takes”), which Portabella inexplicably (and lamentably) has subsequently removed from the film.… Read more »
My liner notes for the Criterion DVD (2003). If memory serves, this was probably the first such essay that I wrote for producer Issa Clubb. — J.R.
ORSON WELLES: Fellini is essentially a small-town boy who’s never really come to Rome. He’s still dreaming about it. And we should all be very grateful for those dreams. In a way, he’s still standing outside looking in through the gates. The force of La Dolce Vita comes from its provincial innocence. It’s so totally invented.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Maybe the “small-town” aspect is why I like I Vitelloni most of all his films.
WELLES: After The White Sheik, it’s the best of all.
Welles’ preference for The White Sheik (1952), Federico Fellini’s first solo feature, over all the others is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Critically speaking, it’s one of the Italian maestro’s most neglected works. In his The Italian Cinema, Pierre Leprohon wrote that it “seems to have been a kind of liquidation of the past in preparation for the emergence of the Fellinian universe, a chance for the author to work off his hatred and rancors.”
Most critics haven’t been so harsh; a more common verdict is to see this as an apprentice work, a sketch of the Fellinian splendors to come.… Read more »
Perhaps the most unjustly neglected of Michelangelo Antonioni’s early features, La Signora Senza Camelie (1953) is a caustic Cinderella story about a Milanese shop clerk (Lucia Bose) who briefly becomes a glamorous movie star. One of the cruelest and most accurate portraits of studio filmmaking and the Italian movie world that we have, it’s informed by a visually and emotionally complex mise en scene that juggles background with foreground elements in a choreographic style recalling Welles at times. Though it’s only Antonioni’s third feature, and its episodic structure necessitates a somewhat awkward expositional method, this is mature filmmaking that leaves an indelible aftertaste. In Italian with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »
This appeared in the August 21, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.
Nights of Cabiria
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Pier Paolo Pasolini
With Giulietta Masina, Franca Marzi, Francois Perier, Amedeo Nazzari, Dorian Gray, and Aldo Silvana.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
Reporting on the response to Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria at Cannes in 1957, François Truffaut wrote, “Let us deplore the fad that seems to be shared equally by the audience, producers, distributors, technicians, actors, and critics who fancy that they can contribute to the ‘creation’ of the films being shown by deciding how they should have been edited and cut. After each showing, I’d hear things like ‘Not bad, but they could have cut a half-hour,’ or ‘I could have saved that film with a pair of scissors.'” As festival responses to more recent masterpieces like Taste of Cherry and The Apostle have shown, this fad is still very much with us. Another, more recent fad is to release longer versions of films that were butchered on their release. Too often these so-called director’s cuts — such as Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and the forthcoming Touch of Evil — can’t qualify as restorations, however, because the directors were never accorded final cut in the first place.… Read more »