Daily Archives: May 20, 2021

En movimiento: Journalistic Distortions as Marketing Strategies

My column for the abril 2018 issue of Caiman Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.

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“I personally can’t define the difference between a documentary and a narrative film,” Abbas Kiarostami once said to me, adding that he considered the difference between a good movie and a bad one more important. I would further note that films that blur distinctions between documentary and fiction, including Kiarostami’s, are sometimes better because they do so. This was recently brought home to me when I belatedly discovered that one of my favorite films of 2017, Heinz Emigholz’s Streetscapes [Dialogue], wasn’t a scripted restaging in Uruguay of the filmmaker’s psychoanalysis with its two original participants, as I had naïvely assumed, but a scripted restaging with an American actor and an Argentinian filmmaker — a discovery that made the film even more provocative and impressive.

When I start to reflect on the widely different ways in which documentaries and fictional narratives are shown and marketed, I begin to realize that obfuscating such issues are often marketing decisions, much as obfuscating distinctions between art and politics often turn out to be. As I suggested in my last column, while decrying the public indifference to Harvey Weinstein’s artistic crimes, this is business as usual in current transatlantic discourse — a recognition that Weinstein’s sexual crimes are “commercial” and his artistic crimes “non-commercial”. Read more

Can a “Complete History of American Film Criticism” Exist?

The following is the 16th column I’ve written for Cahiers du Cinéma España, a bimonthly feature that I write for this magazine called “En movimiento,” translated into Spanish by Carlos Reviriego, the editor-in-chief; it appeared in their March 2010 issue (no. 32). — J.R.

The bound galleys of a new book by Jerry Roberts (a name unfamiliar to me), 480 pages long, has just arrived in the mail, and its title already made me uneasy before I even looked inside: The Complete History of American Film Criticism. Santa Monica Press announces a publication date of April 1, 2010. Even though this appears to be a serious and careful work within its own limits, there are reasons at the outset for both defining and challenging these limits.

At least three separate problems are raised by three of the seven words in the title — “the,” “complete,” and “American”:

(1) Why “the” and not “a”? To suggest something definitive at the outset is already to fib — in the same way that I believe that Nick James, the editor of Sight and Sound, fibbed, presumably without realizing it, in the Spring 2009 issue of Film Quarterly when he wrote, “The wonderful golden run of great international cinema in the 1990s that brought us the best of Edward Yang, Wong Kar-wai, Takeshi Kitano, and Abbas Kiarostami, among many others, petered out several years ago.” Read more

A Notorious French Conspiracy Exposed

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The following sentence is spoken in Variety writer Peter Debruge’s informative and interesting audiovisual essay “Abel & Gordon The Quest for Burlesque,” included on Arrow Academy’s Blu-Ray of Lost in Paris (to be released on December 4):

“There are all kinds of styles from within the burlesque tradition, from the blatantly silly likes of Jerry Lewis, for which the French notoriously have a far greater appreciation than Americans do, to the more refined French comedian Pierre Etaix, who did most of his pratfalls in a suit and hat.”

There are two rather strange assumptions lurking behind this commonplace sentence. Let me bypass the one that defines refinement strictly according to class and clothes and focus on the seemingly more innocuous one about Lewis, which in fact exposes the secret conspiracy accounting for the release of two to three Jerry Lewis features a year during the 1950s — namely, the fact that France was surreptitiously funneling millions of dollars in production costs to Paramount and Hal Wallis so that they could jointly service the French market, all unbeknownst to Americans, who were staying away from the Martin and Lewis pictures in droves. Consequently, one can only surmise that the estimated 80 million people who saw Sailor Beware, Martin and Lewis’s fourth feature, in 1952, consisted of the entire population of France and only 20 million or so Americans, and the fact that Living It Up a year later made more money than Singin’ in the Rain, On the Waterfront, or The African Queen can only be explained by the hyperbolic activities of Lewis’s French fans. Read more