An email interview with Federico Casal in June 2017 for the online Uruguayan film magazine Revista Film. Casal has kindly provided me with this English version. — J.R.
EXCHANGE WITH JONATHAN ROSENBAUM
“I miss the experience of communal and theatrical filmgoing.”
Jonathan Rosenbaum (born February 27, 1943 in Alabama, United States) is an American film critic with more than 50 years of experience. He has written thousands of articles and reviews, as the head critic of the Chicago Reader between 1987 and 2008, and collaborator in The Village Voice, Film Comment, Sight & Sound, Cahiers du Cinéma, Trafic, Film Quarterly, Criterion Collection, among others. He studied literature at Bard College in New York—there he met his most influential teacher, Heinrich Blücher, the German philosopher and second husband of Hanna Arendt. In 1969 he moved to Paris, shortly after which he became Jacques Tati’s assistant for a while and appeared as an extra in Robert Bresson’s Four nights of a dreamer (1971). From Paris he moved to London and then to California. Currently, he lives in Chicago. He has published numerous books on cinema, most recently Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia, Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Cannons and Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See, and others about Orson Wells, Jacques Rivette and Abbas Kiarostami.… Read more »
This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). — J.R.
A recent documentary about communist musicals called East Side Story (Dana Ranga, 1997) assumes that communist-bloc directors were just itching to make Hollywood extravaganzas and invariably wound up looking strained, square, and ill-equipped. But Red Psalm (1971), Miklós Jancsó’s dazzling, open-air revolutionary pageant, is a highly sensual communist musical that employs occasional nudity as lyrically as the singing, dancing, and nature. That is to say, within its own specially and exuberantly defined idioms, it swings as well as wails.
Set near the end of the 19th century, when a group of peasants have demanded basic rights from a landowner and soldiers arrive on horseback to quell the uprising, Red Psalm is composed of only 26 shots. (With a running time of 84 minutes, this adds up to an average of three minutes per shot. Jancsó’s earlier feature from 1969, Winter Sirocco, is said to consist of only 13 shots.) Each long take is an intricate choreography of panning camera, landscape, and clustered bodies that constantly traverse, join, and/or divide the separate groups.… Read more »
These are two films that I encountered recently quite by chance. I came across Mila Turajlic’s Cinema Komunisto (2010), a pithy and often humorous historical account of the postwar Yugoslav film industry, because the filmmaker herself sent me a copy last month; and I just now caught up with Maximillian Schell’s My Sister Maria (2002) because my Viennese artist friend (and sometime Chicagoan) Roxane Legenstein contacted me about it just after the New Year, wondering why it hadn’t been better received in the U.S.
Let me try to answer Roxane’s query first. Just about everyone I know accepts the premise that fiction and its various trappings can be used as a legitimate vehicle in support of the truth, but there are few documentaries that test this premise quite as radically as Schell’s lovely and vibrant portrait of his aging sister, which goes even farther than Wim Wenders’ Lightning Over Water (1980), about the last days of Nicholas Ray. My Sister Maria includes many clips from Maria Schell’s acting career in both Europe and Hollywood, and some speculations about her recent mental condition as well as details about her running up so many debts that Maximillian had to sell a late Rothko painting in order to settle them all. … Read more »