Daily Archives: March 8, 2021

SKIPALONG ROSENBLOOM: A Few Scholarly Footnotes

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I devoted almost an entire page in my first book, a memoir, to this unsung obscurity, a low-budget comedy western that I saw in Florence, Alabama with my brother Alvin on November 14 or 15, 1951, when I was eight and he was six, on a double bill with Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Man from Planet X. I can very nearly classify this viewing as my first cinematic encounter with the avant-garde, by which I mean something akin to what J. Hoberman calls Vulgar Modernism — eight months after what might have been my first non-cinematic encounter with the avant-garde when I attended a Spike Jones concert one Sunday afternoon at the Sheffield Community Center. Bear in mind that I saw Skipalong Rosenbloom a full year before the first issue of Mad (the comic book) appeared and almost two years before I bought my first issue (no. 6, August-September 1953); this was also a full year before I saw Frank Tashlin’s Son of Paleface. It’s quite possible, of course, that I’d already seen one of Tex Avery’s cartoons by then, but if I had, this fact couldn’t be traced by the same methods of research that I employed in my memoir, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, which mainly involved combing back issues of the local Florence newspaper on microfilm for movie ads.… Read more »

David Bordwell

Recommendation: On David Bordwell’s web site, one of my models in setting up this one, there’s a very useful and eye-opening (as well as brain-enhancing) post about frame counts, and how these differ on DVDs (both PAL and NTSC), laserdiscs, VHS copies (considered more cursorily), and 35mm and 16mm prints. I discovered this January 28, 2007 entry belatedly, in a footnote, while checking out David’s latest blog entry, which provides a useful link. [5/26/08]… Read more »

Guilty by Omission

From the September-October 1991 issue of Film Comment; this was also reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies. — J.R.

If one were to undertake a diagnosis of the cultural and historical amnesia that currently afflicts American society in general and the American cinema in particular, the suppression of radical politics as part of our history might be a useful place to start. It is a suppression that comes in many forms, many of them barely conscious.

When a radical youth movie — PUMP UP THE VOLUME — actually gets made and released in the United States today, a repudiation of the 1960s counterculture becomes an obligatory part of its argument, because otherwise many contemporary teenagers would dismiss it out of hand. And when the same film gets reviewed in the United States, even most sympathetic critics find it convenient to overlook the fact that the film is political, for fear of alienating the public. Or when a recent film about Vietnam such as JACOB’S LADDER has the rare courage to attack the Pentagon (unlike, say, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and CASUALTIES OF WAR), one can predict that, given the present climate in America, it will be attacked by some critics for being exploitative and unserious — and praised by others as entertainment — whereas the issues broached by the film won’t be addressed at all.… Read more »

THE GAMBLER (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 494). — J.R.

Gambler, The
U.S.A., 1974

Director: Karel Reisz

The limitations and pretensions of James Toback’s script for The Gambler are so formidable that it is difficult to conceive of any director redeeming or transcending them. A Q.E.D. (indeed, virtually ABC) demonstration of a masochist’s steady progress to self-obliteration, peppered with ‘significant’ flashbacks and literary quotes, it involves gambling no more and no less than The Conversation involves tape recording — which is to say, incidentally rather than substantively. By the end of the first reel or so, it is already painfully clear that Axel Freed (James Caan) is more interested in losing than winning, and from that point onward narrative interest is increasingly diffused by a clinical spelling out of his condition which has all the earmarks of a stacked deck. The problem is not so much a surfeit of psychological analysis — the script offers hints, not explicit causes explaining Axel’s condition — as too little to account for his behavior naturalistically, and too much to permit any sustained acceptance of the character on an allegorical or mythical level. Unlike the abnormal, high-strung and death-defying auto racer played by James Caan in Hawks’ Red Line 7000, there is nothing in Axel that suggests hidden depths; indeed, despite Caan’s consistent professionalism, the actor appears to be as uninterested in his character as Axel seems to be in himself.… Read more »

Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine

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

One of the more interesting personalities of the Iranian cinema, Bahman Farmanara produced a controversial early feature by Abbas Kiarostami (Report) and won praise for his own work, including the 1974 feature Prince Ehtejab. But he hit a government roadblock in the mid-70s, when all his proposals for films started getting rejected, and for much of the past quarter century he’s lived in the West (in Vancouver, among other places). In this welcome comeback (2000) he plays a middle-aged filmmaker rather like himself who ruefully accepts a commission to make a documentary for Japanese television about Iranian death rituals. His wife has been dead five years (though Farmanara’s wife, to whom the film is dedicated, is alive and well), and after discovering that the cemetery where he expects to be buried has planted someone else next to her, he embarks on the strange experience of witnessing his own funeral, one of many fantasy sequences. This oddball comedy, a selection at last year’s New York film festival, is full of wry asides and unexpected details that tell us more about contemporary Iran than we’d normally expect to find in a recent feature.… Read more »

Discovering Yasuzo Masumura: Reflections on Work in Progress

This essay was written between 1999 and 2001 for Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia, a 2003 collection I coedited with Adrian Martin and wrote (or, more often, cowrote) many pieces for. This particular piece was part of a section of the book entitled “Two Auteurs: Masumura and Hawks” that I collaborated on with the great Japanese film critic Shigehiko Hasumi, which also included two dialogues with him and a lengthy essay by him about Howard Hawks. — J.R.

To appropriate one of the categories of Andrew Sarris’ The American Cinema, Yasuzo Masumura (1924-1986) is a “subject for further research”. My first encounter with his work was almost thirty years ago in Paris, where his Love For an Idiot (Chijin no ai, 1967), an updated adaptation of Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1924 novel Naomi, was playing under the title La chatte japonaise. (As I would discover much later, there are two other excellent Tanizaki adaptations in his oeuvre -– Manji [Swastika, 1964] and Tattoo [Irezumi, 1966].) Spurred by a twelve page spread in the October 1970 issue of Cahiers du cinéma –- perhaps the most extensive critical recognition he’s received to date in the West -– I found myself both shocked and intrigued by this depiction of the erotic delirium of a middle-aged factory worker over the much younger wife he trains, marries and loses.… Read more »