Daily Archives: June 19, 2021

An Eccentric, Indescribable Bounty (PASSAGE DU CINÉMA, 4992)

 First of all, what is it?

Passage du cinéma, 4992

165 x 240 mm. PlanoPak Weiß 50 gr. (Papyrus). 992 pages.
ISBN 978-2-9544708-0-1. 35 euros. Septembre 2013.

Composition, choix des fragments et montage : Annick Bouleau
Conception graphique : Le Théâtre des Opérations
Édition : Ansedonia, association Loi 1901

“the only book to recount the history of cinema” — Jean-Luc Godard, in the English-language pressbook for Goodbye to Language, p. 22

Not simply a book, but an interactive, multimedia art project by French experimental filmmaker and teacher Annick Bouleau (you can go here for her extensive filmography), the centerpiece of which is a book in French, a copy of which Bouleau was kind enough to send to me. (For the many other aspects of this project and her work, one could easily spend days navigating Bouleau’s web site.) It took her a decade to assemble it. [2019: In July 2019, while I was visiting Paris, she recognized me on the street and introduced herself.] 

What are the contents of this book (seen below in manuscript form)?

A title page, dedication, acknowledgements, Introduction (“Mode d’emploi”), Table of Contents (an alphabetical listing of hundreds of topics, from “abandon” to “zoom,” with corresponding page numbers), and a one-page reader’s manual (“Vade-mecum du lecteur”), followed by 967 double-column pages of 4992 entries. … Read more »

DOWN WITH LOVE (2003)

Written for The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., a catalogue/ collection put together to accompany a film series at the Austrian Filmmuseum and the Viennale in Autumn 2009. — J.R.

One reason I took so long getting to see this movie (2003) was the number of friends who assured me it was nothing special. Most of them seemed to go along uncritically with the publicists’ claim, echoed by reviewers, that it was a simple point-by-point pastiche of three late-50s and early-60s comedies starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall: Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), and Send Me No Flowers (1964). These films have never appealed to me in the slightest, though Mark Rappaport did an expert job of unpacking them in his 1992 Rock Hudson’s Home Movies. But Down With Love is also an affectionate satire of late-50s and early-60s studio glitz that often contradicts the pastiche. The filmmakers, who were too young to experience this era themselves, make plenty of errors, starting with a Fox CinemaScope logo (wrong studio and too late for that logo) and the snazzy rainbow credits (too hyperactive for the time). Then we get palatial Manhattan apartments (much more identified with How to Marry a Millionaire in 1953 and The Tender Trap in 1955) and bubble-gum-colored media blitzes (as in Funny Face and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?Read more »

Films of the Future [on Pedro Costa]

From the Chicago Reader (November 15, 2007). — J.R.

Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa Gene Siskel Film Center, 11/17—12/4

The cinema of Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa is populated not so much by characters in the literary sense as by raw essences — souls, if you will. This is a trait he shares with other masters of portraiture, including Robert Bresson, Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Demy, Alexander Dovzhenko, Carl Dreyer, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, and Jacques Tourneur. It’s not a religious predilection but rather a humanist, spiritual, and aesthetic tendency. What carries these mysterious souls, and us along with them, isn’t stories — though untold or partially told stories pervade all six of Costa’s features. It’s fully realized moments, secular epiphanies.

Born in Lisbon in 1959, by his own account Costa grew up without much of a family, and famly life — actual or simulated — is central to his work. All his films are about the dispossessed in one way or another. As the Argentine film critic Quintín puts it, he’s “a cool guy — very rock ’n’ roll” (in fact he was a rock guitarist before he turned to filmmaking). “At the same time,” Quintín continues, he is “quietly telling whoever will listen that cinema is exactly the opposite of what 99% of the film world thinks, and he is getting more radical every day.”… Read more »

High and Low: Eisenstein’s IVAN THE TERRIBLE

Written for Criterion’s Current (web site), April 21, 2009. — J.R.

I recently had occasion to show Ivan the Terrible in a course on forties world cinema I’m teaching at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute, and found it more mind-boggling than ever. This has always been the Eisenstein feature that’s given me the most pleasure — the greatest Flash Gordon serial ever made as well as a showcase for the Russian master’s boldest graphics. But ever since I first saw it in the 1960s, this is a pleasure I’ve often had to apologize for, thanks to the vagaries and confusions of cold-war thinking. This thinking maintained that Eisenstein caved into Stalinist pressures, denounced the montage aesthetic that was central to his best work, and turned out an archaic, made-to-order glorification of a dictator.

Part of the problem has been reconciling the film’s multiple paradoxes — how much it functions as Eisenstein’s autocritique and apologia as well as an attack and glorification of Stalin, meanwhile combining elements of both high and low art at virtually every instant with its tortured angles and extreme melodrama. (Though portions of Part II could be termed inferior to Part I, the moment the film switches to color, using Agfa stock seized from the Germans during World War II, it moves into dizzying high gear, reminding us that Walt Disney was one of Eisenstein’s favorite filmmakers.)… Read more »