From the March 1, 2002 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.
What Time Is It There?
Directed by Tsai Ming-liang
Written by Tsai and Yang Pi-ying
With Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi, Lu Yi-ching, Miao Tien, Cecilia Yip, and Jean-Pierre Léaud.
After hearing the adagio of a Schubert chamber work: there is nothing more beautiful than the happy moments of unhappy men. This might serve as a definition of art. — The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan
Toward the beginning of his essay “The Crack-Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald notes that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” That might well describe the agenda of a poetic and philosophical Taiwanese-French feature, Tsai Ming-liang’s glorious two-part invention What Time Is It There?, which premiered at Cannes last year and is opening at the Music Box this week (assuming the theater reopens after some trouble with health inspectors). It feels more contemporary, at least from a global perspective, than any other new movie in town, and central to it is an examination of separateness and togetherness, unity and disparity in two separate countries in two separate parts of the world.… Read more »
THE CROSS OF REDEMPTION: UNCOLLECTED WRITINGS by James Baldwin, edited and with an introduction by Randall Kenan, New York: Pant6heon Books, 2010, 307 pp.
I’ve only barely started to familiarize myself with this collection, but it’s already become apparent that this is far cry from what’s commonly known as “scraping the bottom of the barrel”. Indeed, as with James Agee’s collected non-fiction, one is discovering that the Library of America’s efforts at canonizing cantankerous eloquence is, let us say, a bit under-researched, to say the least (unless the problems are simply those of taste). Baldwin’s review for the Village Voice of Seymour Krim’s first collection of essays, the first thing I read here, is plainly superior to some of the things that went into the Library of America’s selection (and, as I’ve argued elsewhere, what I regard as the strongest essay Agee ever wrote, “America, Look at Your Shame!”, even if it was never published during Agee’s lifetime, is criminally omitted from both of LOA’s two Agee volumes).
I’ve encountered some other treasures in The Cross of Redemption, even at this preliminary stage, but let me zero in here on a single prophetic statement contained in the first paragraph of a 1961 Baldwin lecture that Kenan quotes from in his Introduction:
Bobby Kennedy recently made me the soul-stirring promise that one day — thirty years, if I’m lucky — I can be President too.… Read more »
[Chicago Reader blog post, 4/23/07] (I’ve eliminated all the now-out-of-date links, making this even more esoteric.) — J.R.
Five years ago the Oxford American, a quarterly publication that dubs itself the “southern magazine of good writing,” published a special issue on southern movies. It did so well that they’ve just brought out a sequel. Though I contributed to the previous issue I didn’t propose anything this time round, but now that I have the follow-up in front of me I find I can recommend it for a couple of things. There’s a good interview with Charles Burnett by Dennis Lim and a thoughtful essay by Joseph McBride about John Huston, his Wise Blood in particular. Maybe it’s not always reliable: Jack Pendarvis claims that “if you Google ‘commedia dell’arte’ + ‘baby doll’ you’ll get over a thousand hits,” but when I tried I got only 368. All the same, it’s interesting to see Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll, a 1956 feature scripted by Tennessee Williams, and commedia dell’arte connected .
What I mainly value in the package, though, is the free DVD that’s been appended to it–an eclectic collection of 16 items consisting of 13 clips (from films ranging from Roger Corman’s overlooked The Intruder to Joey Lauren’s Come Early Morning to Ross McElwee’s Bright Leaves, plus the overexposed Black Snake Moan) and three full-length shorts, all three pretty arcane: animator Leon Searl’s 1916 Krazy Kat Goes A-Wooing (download required), Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth’s 1938 animation Synchromy No.… Read more »
Written for Criterion’s Blu-Ray release of Ozu’s Good Morning and I Was Born, But… in 2017. — J.R.
Structures and Strictures in Suburbia
From its very opening, Good Morning is deeply and delightfully musical, both in its orchestrations of static visual elements in the first two shots (the juxtaposition of adjacent houses with fences and clotheslines, and all these horizontals with the verticality of electrical towers) and in its varying rhythmic patterns of human movement, which are no less orchestrated, as various figures cross the pathways between houses, between houses and hill, and on top of the hill itself—always, mysteriously, moving from right to left. And what could be more musical than the opening gag, occurring on the same sunny hilltop, of little boys farting for their own amusement, still another form of theme and variations?
All of which prompts me to disagree respectfully with the late Ozu specialist Donald Richie when he maintained, “Good Morning, in some ways Ozu’s most schematic film, certainly one of his least complicated formally, is an example of a film constructed around motifs.” Certainly the motifs are there, and these are vital; the two examined by Richie as sterling examples are the farting and the greeting embodied in the film’s title, and numerous variations are run on both.… Read more »