I’m very glad that I recently purchased Saul Bellow’s collected nonfiction — a handsome, interesting, and useful book, even if I tend to regard Bellow as the most overrated of all the “major” contemporary American novelists (certainly talented and smart, but not terribly interesting when it comes to formal inventiveness). And among the many valuable discoveries to be made here is the fact that Bellow served as a film critic for the magazine Horizon in 1962-1963, a stint which yielded four separate columns — on Morris Engels’ Lovers and Lollipops, on Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana, and two think pieces, “The Mass-Produced Insight” (which quotes from his pal Manny Farber) and “Adrift on a Sea of Gore” (mostly about Richard Fleischer’s Barrabas).
I was especially interested in Bellow’s appreciative remarks about Buñuel. But here is where the attentions of his otherwise careful editor, Benjamin Taylor, come up woefully short. Listing some of the more notable items in Buñuel’s filmography, Bellow comes up with two very puzzling titles, The Roots (1957) [sic] and Stranger in the Room (1961) [sic]. The second of these, which he discusses in some detail, sounds like he might be thinking of La Fièvre Monte à El Pao (1959), while the first is most likely La Mort en Ce Jardin (1956).… Read more »
Written for Sight and Sound on August 5, 2015. — J.R.
The Day I Became a Woman (2000)
Marziyeh Meskini’s first feature, shot exclusively in exteriors on gorgeous Kish island in Iran, tells three successive tales of rebellious female empowerment at separate ages: Havva enjoys sharing tamarind pulp and a lollipop with a male friend a few hours before she turns nine and officially loses her freedom by becoming a woman. Ahoo fiercely pedals her bicycle with other women while her husband and other male relatives on horses try to restrain her. Houra, a dowager, buys a beach full of home furnishings at a nearby mall and has them hauled out to sea. All three tales are both allegorical and sensual, and the leisurely pacing of the first is followed by the constant motion of the second. The Surrealist deconstruction of domestic space in the third brings all three characters together, and once again turns the censorship rules into creative opportunities. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
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Published in the Spanish newspaper El mundo as “El maverick impredecible” on May 1, 2015. — J.R.
Having some historical perspective on changing fashions in film taste is never easy, but it becomes necessary if one is to understand the fluctuating meanings of the career of Orson Welles. Just as one needs to recall a time in the early 20th century when the crime serials of Louis Feuillade such as Fantomas and Les Vampires were regarded with utter scorn by sophisticated cinephiles, and a time in the mid-20th century when Alfred Hitchcock was still considered an entertainer but not an artist, we have to consider that during the half-century constituting the career of Orson Welles, his audience swerved repeatedly back and forth between regarding him as a mainstream star and viewing him as an esoteric artist. Although the tendency to see him as a maverick has been constant, the issue of where he belongs as a maverick has never been entirely resolved.
Even before Citizen Kane, when at age 23 he appeared on the cover of Time magazine (1938) for his work in theater and as a radio actor, and shortly before he began a weekly radio series of his own, he already had the profile of a boy genius full of imagination and mischief, a reputation that was only enhanced about half a year later when he fooled part of his radio audience into believing, through an unorthodox adaptation of H.G.… Read more »