Daily Archives: June 2, 2021

The Kane Mutiny and Related Disputes

Two quotes from the Letters section of the February 3, 1977 New York Review of Books:

John Bernard Myers: “It can easily be demonstrated that film directors created this art: Méliès, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, G.W. Pabst, Fritz Lang, Abel Gance, René Clair, Robert Flaherty, Alfred Hitchcock, Louis Malle—the list is long.”

Gore Vidal: “[Peter] Bogdanovich’s list of Welles’s post-[Herman] Mankiewicz films as compared to Mankiewicz’s post-Welles films only proves that neither was to be involved in another good film (excepting The Magnificent Ambersons and Christmas Holiday) ever again. This is the not unusual fate of movie makers as I discovered, and as Bogdanovich is discovering. You almost can’t win.

“With characteristic wit, wisdom, and eloquence, John Myers proves my point that ever since the movies began to talk the writer, not the director, is the essential creator of any film. Mr. Myers lists the directors that he admires and except for Louis Malle, they are all silent film directors (Fritz Lang of course worked in both silent and sound). Are the movies really and truly an art form? Nolo contendere.”

It’s astonishing that Vidal should argue and apparently believe that we value Chaplin, Eisenstein, Clair, and even Hitchcock as artists, if at all, only when they made silent pictures — apparently unlike Fritz Lang, whose M is a talkie.Read more »

Ousmane Sembène

OUSMANE SEMBÈNE: INTERVIEWS, Edited by Annett Busch and Max Anas, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008, 225 pp.

What an absurdly arduous and uphill battle it’s been, to understand even the rudiments of African cinema! I now have three books about the father of African cinema, but it hasn’t been until I started looking at the third that I began to pick up some fundamental, basic data. I’m thinking in particular of Sembène’s first feature, La noire de… (1966), known inadequately in English as Black Girl, only 65 minutes long. Yesterday, on one of my periodic trips back to the Chicago Reader to collect mail that still erroneously or fortuitously gets sent to me there, I was delighted to find a copy of this new volume, the latest in an excellent series of interview collections, unwrapped in my mailbox.

In 1995, I devoted a long review in the Reader to Black Girl, Sembène’s remarkable adaptation of his own story, “Promised Land” (which can be found in his collection Tribal Scars). By the time I reprinted this in my 1997 Movies as Politics, I was able to add a footnote correcting a false supposition I’d made about a color sequence that was in some prints of the film, but not in any I’d seen, after a friend who’d seen this sequence wrote me about it.… Read more »

Hollywood Unchained [SPARTACUS]

From the May 10, 1991 Chicago Reader. –J.R.


*** (A must-see)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Dalton Trumbo

With Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, and John Ireland.

“It has acres of dead people, more blood and gore than you ever saw in your whole life.

“In the final scene, Spartacus’s mistress, carrying her illegitimate baby, passes along the Appian Way with 6,000 crucified men on crosses.

“That story was sold to Universal from a book written by a Commie and the screen script was written by a Commie, so don’t go to see it.”

Despite these dire warnings from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper — and another from the American Legion, which sent a letter to its 17,000 local posts urging people to boycott the movie — Spartacus, released in 1960 and reportedly the most expensive movie ever shot in Hollywood, eventually turned a profit. It was even the top money-maker of 1962 after it went into general release — thereby, I suppose, making Commie symps of all of us who went to see it. It was the Kennedy era, and the blood and gore on view were pretty tame by today’s standards; for the record, the number of crucified men — rebel slaves — while high, is a good bit shy of 6,000.… Read more »

Luis & Sam

Christa Fuller, who took this picture in 1967 in Buñuel’s house in Mexico City, has invited me to place it here; it shows Buñuel with her late husband, Sam. The first time I ever met Sam, in the summer of 1980, I interviewed him at the Plaza Hotel in New York about The Big Red One for the Soho News. He was being courted at the time by Serge Silberman about possibly directing a French best seller called The Tunnel, and Sam let out a rebel-style holler when I said something like, “Isn’t that Buñuel’s producer?” “Yaaah! That why I had a hard-on for him, boy, he puts all the loot up for Buñuel, and I love that man.” (8/17/08)

Read more »

It’s a Mall, Mall World [CHAIN]

From the Chicago Reader (March 4, 2005). — J.R.


*** (A must-see)

Directed and Written by Jem Cohen

With Miho Nikaido and Mira Billotte

Chain, the first solo feature by film and video artist Jem Cohen, is a strange mix of documentary and fiction about malls and similar commercial spaces. It’s meditative rather than action packed, and the creepiness it exposes has as much to do with absence as presence. But it deserves more attention than the single local screening it’s getting at Columbia College. I suspect it’s not getting more because it was partly funded by European television, because distributors never know how to package films that merge documentary and fiction, and because it belongs to the netherworld between film and art (it’s playing in conjunction with the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s exhibition “Manufactured Self”). It hasn’t even made the art-house circuit, which is a loss: it’s highly ambitious, has plenty to say, and is far from inaccessible.

Chain was shot in 16-millimeter over six years in hundreds of malls around the world — Atlanta, Dallas, Orlando, Berlin, Paris, Warsaw, Melbourne. That it’s impossible to tell the malls’ locations is part of the point. “I began the project,” says Cohen in his press notes, “by deciding to focus on the corporate and commercial landscapes that I had previously ‘framed out’ in my filmmaking, and to try to understand how these places were affecting the people within them.… Read more »