Daily Archives: June 3, 2021

Chinese Puzzle [ASHES OF TIME]

From the Chicago Reader (March 10, 1995). — J.R.

Ashes of Time

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Wong Kar-wai

With Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Kar-fai, Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia,Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, and Karina Lau.

There’s no question that Chinese cinema is in a state of upheaval. On the mainland the government’s film bureau has introduced new legislation that would discourage foreign financing of local production, and it’s blacklisted many of the best (and best-known) independent filmmakers and video artists, including Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite), Zhang Yimou (To Live), and Zhang Yuan (Mama). Meanwhile the market for Chinese movies in both Taiwan and Hong Kong has taken a nosedive. Last summer, for the first time in Hong Kong in three decades, Hollywood movies outgrossed locally made movies (with Speed and The Flintstones leading the pack). And according to Asian film specialist Tony Rayns, most of the best Taiwanese directors are seeking new sources of financing and exploring foreign markets now that their local audiences are drifting away. Even the most publicized romance in the Chinese film world, the one between director Zhang Yimou and star Gong Li, is on the rocks.… Read more »

Pastor Carroll Pickett/Steve James/Peter Gilbert,

AT THE DEATH HOUSE DOOR (Steve James and Peter Gilbert, 2008, 94 min .)

This remarkable Katemquin documentary is showing at 8 PM tonight on the IFC channel (I saw it last night, at a free public screening), but if you miss it there, you’ll have plenty of other chances to see it–you can even screen it online. It wouldn’t quite do the film justice to say that it’s about capital punishment and miscarriages of justice in Huntsville, Texas, although these topics are certainly part of its fabric. It’s really a character study of Carroll Pickett, a quiet, undemonstrative man who served as the death house chaplain for over 95 executions, including the world’s first lethal injection, and gradually went from believing to disbelieving in capital punishment in the process. You might say that he’s someone who discovered the truth about his activity the hard way, which may also be the best way.

By the same token, as I believe Peter Gilbert pointed out at the screening I attended, this isn’t a “political” film in the usual sense, and it doesn’t preach, even though it’s about a preacher. Steve James and Gilbert put it across with so much power because they know how to tell stories, as their previous films–including James’s HOOP DREAMS, STEVIE, and REEL PARADISE, and Gilbert’s VIETNAM: LONG TIME COMING–amply demonstrate.… Read more »

Jean-Pierre Gorin/Jean-Luc Godard

A “PIERROT” PRIMER by Jean-Pierre Gorin, a 36-minute audiovisual analysis of Jean-Luc Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU included on the second disc of the Criterion DVD of PIERROT LE FOU (Criterion 421, 2007).

For some time, I’d been lamenting that the highly original manner and method of lecturing on a film inaugurated by Manny Farber as a teacher at the University of California, San Diego and subsequently developed there by Jean-Pierre Gorin had still never been preserved on a DVD, which in some ways may be an ideal place for it. Then, when J-P’s inventive and perceptive remarks on portions of PIERROT LE FOU turned up on the Criterion DVD last year, I was thrilled and gratified to discover that it had finally happened. I even resolved to write about this in my next DVD column for Cinema Scope. But then I somehow managed to forget this resolve (so many DVDs, so little time)–at least until I accessed and started reading Royal Brown’s online review of the DVD in the summer issue of Cineaste, where my eye came upon a reference to Gorin’s “professorial and often rather smug and empty analysis of the film’s first fifteen minutes”. Since none of these three adjectives comes even close to describing my own responses, I regret my failure to note my own admiration for what Gorin has done.… Read more »

Charles Fort/Vladimir Mayakovsky

Recommended Reading:

CHARLES FORT: THE MAN WHO INVENTED THE SUPERNATURAL by Jim Steinmeyer, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 332 pp.

NIGHT WRAPS THE SKY: WRITINGS BY AND ABOUT MAYAKOVSKY, edited by Michael Almereyda, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, 272 pp.

Technically these are a biography and an anthology, but both are in effect delightful samplers of the work of two very singular and controversial men who were roughly contemporaries, although they were born 19 years apart: Charles Fort (1874-1932) and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930). I’m far from completing either book at this point, but both make for very pleasurable summer reading.

Fort was a late bloomer, especially regarding his public profile, which essentially consisted of the last four of his five published books–The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931), and Wild Talents (1932), all very witty, imaginative, and provocative forays into debunking science. These were preceded only by several short stories published only in magazines and a 1909 novel that has never been reprinted, as well as some other creative non-fiction, all unpublished, that Steinmeyer quotes from liberally. Steinmeyer is a specialist in stage magic with whom I once had the pleasure of doing a lengthy phone interview.… Read more »