My column for the Summer 2016 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.
J.P. Sniadecki’s feature-length The Iron Ministry (2014), available on DVD from Icarus Films, is by far the best non-Chinese documentary I’ve seen about contemporary mainland China. (Just for the record, the best Chinese documentary on the same general subject that I’ve seen is Yu-Shen Su’s far more unorthodox—and woefully still unavailable — 2012 Man Made Place; a couple of snippets are available on YouTube and Vimeo.) Filmed over three years on Chinese trains, it’s full of revelatory moments, and not only in its surprisingly outspoken interviews: the non-narrative stretches, which compare quite favourably with the more abstract portions of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan (2012), are pretty stunning as well. Skip this one at your peril.
Second Run’s very first Blu-ray — Pedro Costa’s Horse Money (2015) — is gorgeously transferred, and has splendid extras: Costa’s 2010 short film O nosso homem, essays by Jonathan Romney and Chris Fujiwara, an introduction to Horse Money’s introduction by Thom Andersen, and Laura Mulvey’s conversation with Costa at London’s ICA. The extras on Criterion’s Blu-ray of Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (1964) are too numerous to mention here, but suffice it to say that just about every intertextual reference in this cherished object are teased out in one way or another.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 515). — J.R.
Coilin & Platonida
Great Britain, 1976
Director: James Scott
The 1920s. Thrown out of the house by her uncle, Aksinya marries her lover, a sexton, and five months later gives birth to a son, Coilin. After the sexton drowns in a stream, she works as a servant to nuns, introducing and dressing Coilin as a little girl. Entering school at the age of twelve, Coilin is expelled for backwardness, and finds work as an apprentice to various craftsmen. After three years in the army, he returns to find his mother dead and is turned away from his uncle’s house. Visiting two orphaned boys who are distant relatives and finding them hungry and maltreated, he takes them under his wing and persuades his cousin Platonida to give them clothes. Settling in with the children in an unused room at Granny Rochovna’s cottage, he sells home -made polishand ink, does odd jobs, and applies unsuccessfully for work at the postoffice. Given an island by the town council, he builds a hut and teaches the boys to read. Four years later, Platonida’s husband dies, and her father-in-law promises to leave her his fortune. One night, she finds her father-in-law crouching outside her bedroom window; after she lets him in and he tries to rape her, she strikes at him with a cleaver and runs away, believing that she has killed him.… Read more »
Written for Cineaste (Winter 2018). — J.R.
Auteur Theory and My Son John
by James Morrison. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.
190 pp. Hardcover: $75.00, Paperback: $19.95, and Ebook:
My admiration for and my demurrals about James Morrison’s brilliant monograph both begin on the first pages of his Introduction. He quotes the title subject of Mike Nichols: An American Master (2016) on the “froggy conspiracy” which elevates figures like Howard Hawks and Jerry Lewis at the expense of George Stevens, Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and Fred Zinnemann (“our greatest directors”), a statement that Morrison aptly compares to the vulgar parodies of existential beatniks in Stanley Donen’s Funny Face. Yet two pages later, when he calls Nichols “countable as one of the ‘auteurs’ who by common consent ushered in the New Hollywood,” Morrison seems to be indulging in aspects of the same parody, especially when one considers that he’s decided to suppress the information that Mike Nichols: An American Master is the work of a genuine auteur, Elaine May (coincidentally, Donen’s current partner), and not only because, unlike Nichols, she functions as a film writer as well as a film director. I presume that Morrison chose to suppress May’s involvement in this glib claptrap because it complicates his argument, especially when he goes on to show that Nichols’ tirade is seemingly bolstered by May’s montage of dumb quotes from Bosley Crowther about Bonnie and Clyde, and from Pauline Kael and Renata Adler about 2001, constituting what Morrison rightly calls “a slam against film criticism as such”.… Read more »