From the Chicago Reader (March 21, 2003). — J.R.
Manoel de Oliveira’s 2001 masterpiece explores the Portuguese city where he’s lived for more than 90 years, though it concentrates on the first 30 or so, suggesting that his childhood must have lasted a very long time. It’s a remarkable film for its effortless freedom and grace in passing between past and present, fiction and nonfiction, staged performance and archival footage (including clips from two of his earliest films, Hard Work on the River Douro and Aniki-Bobo) while integrating and sometimes even synthesizing these modes. He’s mainly interested in key images, music, and locations from the Eden of his privileged youth, and some of the film’s songs are performed by him or his wife — though we also get a fully orchestrated version of Emmanuel Nunes’s Nachtmusik 1. In Portuguese with subtitles. 61 min. (JR)
… Read more »
From Cinema Scope issue 39, Summer 2014. — J.R.
I shelled out $56.19 in US dollars (including postage) to acquire the definitive and restored, director-approved DVD of Providence (1977) from French Amazon, and I hasten to add that this was money well spent. Notwithstanding the passion and brilliance of Alain Resnais’ first two features, Providence is in many ways my favourite of his longer works, quite apart from the fact that it’s the only one in English. And I can’t ascribe this preference simply to the contribution of David Mercer (1928-1980). I recently resaw the only other Mercer-scripted film I’m familiar with, Karel Reisz’s Morgan!, and aside from the wit of its own sarcastic dialogue I mainly found it just as flat and tiresome as I did in 1966, for reasons that are well expounded in Dwight Macdonald’s contemporary review (reprinted in his collection On Movies).
I haven’t yet been able to see The Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter), Resnais’ swan song, but clearly part of what gives Providence even more resonance now, writing less than a month after Resnais’ death, is the theme it shares with his penultimate feature, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (2013): an old writer facing his own death, and trying to create some form of art in relation to it.… Read more »
From Film Quarterly, March 2007, vol. 60, no. 3; reprinted in Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia. Obviously some of this is out of date by now. — J.R.
There’s a part of me that understands perfectly why a
minimalist like Jim Jarmusch and a 19th century figure like
Raul Ruiz won’t have anything to do with email. “You can’t
smell email,” Ruiz once said to me, to explain part of the
reason for his distaste. But I find it tougher to feel
nostalgic about film criticism before the Internet, because
even though you could smell it, the choices of what you
could lay your hands on outside a few well-stocked
university libraries were fairly limited. Similarly, the
choices of what films you could see outside a few cities
like New York and Paris before DVDs was pretty narrow, and
possibly even more haphazard than what you could read about
These two developments shouldn’t be considered in
isolation from one another. The growth of film writing on
the web —- by which I mean stand-alone sites, print-magazine
sites, chatgroups, and blogs —- has proceeded in tandem with
other communal links involving film culture that to my mind
are far more important than the decline in the theatrical
distribution of art films and independent films, so I’ll be
periodically discussing those links here.… Read more »
I can’t remember the first time I met Gil Perez, but the first time I got in touch with him, which must have been in the late 60s, it was to reprint a remarkable essay of his about Murnau that had appeared in Sight and Sound for an anthology I was editing called Film Masters, a book that for various complex reasons never came out (although, if memory serves, it twice reached the galley-proof stage). I do recall that Gil was still a theoretical physicist at the time, in the U.S. but still relatively fresh from Havana, and he was most likely making his academic transition to film studies and film theory when we eventually met in New York. (See his Introduction to his magisterial 1998 The Material Ghost, “Film and Physics,” for more details.) Years later, circa the early 80s, we became neighbors in Hoboken, living only a few blocks apart, and we remained loosely in touch for the remainder of his life, during his various stints at William Paterson, Princeton, Harvard, Missouri, and, most permanently, Sarah Lawrence, where he ran the film history program.
A slow and methodical writer, but also a prolific one, Gil wrote frequently about film for the The Hudson Review, The Yale Review, and the London Review of Books and less often for film and academic journals, and I was often envious of the way he was both welcome and able to hold his own as a public intellectual with a literary sensibility in those and similar venues, such as The Nation.… Read more »
The following letter was published in the May 2021 issue of Harper’s magazine. Violet Lucca, the Letters editor, invited me to respond to the March issue’s cover story, by Martin Scorsese, “on Fellini and the lost magic of movies”. — J.R.
The moment cinephilia links up with personal nostalgia, as it does in Martin Scorsese’s “Il Maestro,” intellectual distinctions become tenuous. He laments the devaluing of art as “content” by his dumb employers and people accessing cinema in their homes, yet he has no trouble admitting that he first saw La strada on TV with his parents. Moreover, he grew up with movies as an art form before having to wrestle with it as a business, whereas I grew up in a family of Alabama exhibitors and eventually underwent the reverse trajectory, discovering film art in New York around the same time he did.
Scorsese’s clearly a cinephile who has done extraordinary and generous work in making world cinema more widely available, but you’d never guess this from reading him on the subjects of Fellini and contemporary film culture. Here he seems to confuse personal choices and predilections with history, but my choices as a consumer aren’t his.
For me film culture remains as vital in some ways as it was in the 60s when Jonas Mekas could put out a magazine plausibly pretending to celebrate all of it.… Read more »