Written for The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., a catalogue/ collection put together to accompany a film series at the Austrian Filmmuseum and the Viennale in Autumn 2009. — J.R.
One of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated films is
not only a virtuoso piece of filmmaking but a flagrant
piece of mean-spiritedness and teenage irreverence
that underlines aspects of his work that his more popular
and commercially successful works tend to either
disguise or rationalize. Both of these qualities
are partially the contributions of cowriter Robert
Zemeckis –- who exhibits these traits more independently
on such later features as Used Cars (1980)
and Forrest Gump (1994). But there’s also a strain
that one might associate with the more progressive
and Tashlinesque reflexes of a Joe Dante, helping to
explain why John Wayne not only refused indignantly
to play in this comedy but also tried to persuade
Spielberg that making such a movie was tantamount
to spitting on the American flag. In Spielberg’s
hands, much of the comedy here seems to derive
from a desire to see large sets destroyed as if they
were Tinker toy constructions, complete with tuttifrutti
mixtures of splattered paint, and without the
messy inconvenience of either deaths or morals.… Read more »
From the November 4, 1988 issue of the Chicago Reader. This piece is also reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies.
The absence of Rob Tregenza’s three features — Talking to Strangers, The Arc, and Inside/Out— on DVD continues to be a major cultural gap, although he says that does have plans to release them all when he can. (Regarding Inside/Out, here are two more links.) And there’s a fourth feature that he shot more recently in Norway, called Gavagai, which was shown in Chicago at Facets.
Before Godard produced Tregenza’s third feature, Inside/Out, he selected Talking to Strangers as his “critic’s choice” for the Toronto International Film Festival and even wrote an extended review of it for their catalog, the same year that he showed For Ever Mozart; I interviewed him about Histoire(s) du cinema at the same festival after he showed me the three latest episodes in his hotel room. — J.R.
TALKING TO STRANGERS
Directed and written by Rob Tregenza
With Ken Gruz, Marvin Hunter, Dennis Jordan, Caron Tate, Henry Strozier, Richard Foster, Linda Chambers, and Sarah Rush.
Let us consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid.… Read more »
From Take One (January 1979). — J.R.
In order to do justice to the mesmerizing effectiveness of Halloween, a couple of mini-backgrounds need to be sketched: that of writer-director John Carpenter, and that of the Mainstream Simulated Snuff Movie — a popular puritanical genre that I’ll call thw MSSM for short.
(1) On the basis of his first two low-budget features, it was already apparent that the aptly-named Carpenter was one of the sharpest Hollywood craftsmen to have come along in ages — a nimble jack-of-all-trades who composed his own music, doubled as producer (Dark Star) and editor (Assault on Precinct 13), and served up his genre materials with an unmistakably personal verve. Both films deserve the status of sleepers; yet oddly enough, most North American critics appear to have slept through them, or else stayed away. Somehow, the word never got out, apart from grapevine bulletins along a few film-freak circuits.
Dark Star proved that Carpenter could be quirky and funny; Assault showed that he could be quirky, funnu, and suspenseful all at once. Halloween drops the comedy, substitutes horror, and keeps you glued to your seat with ruthless efficiency from the first frame to the last.… Read more »