Monthly Archives: June 2021

Appendix from FILM: THE FRONT LINE 1983 (part one)

My book Film: The Front Line 1983 (Denver: Arden Press), intended by its editor-publisher to launch an annual series, regrettably lasted for only one other volume, by David Ehrenstein, after two other commissioned authors failed to submit completed manuscripts. Miraculously, however, this book remained in print for roughly 35 years, and now that it’s finally reached the end of that run (although some copies can still be found online), I’ve decided to reproduce more of its contents on this site, along with links and (when available) illustrations. I’ll begin with the book’s end, an Appendix subtitled “22 More Filmmakers,” which I’ll post here in three installments, along with links and (when available) illustrations. — J.R.

Film The Front Line 1983

APPENDIX: 22 MORE FILMMAKERS

All sorts of determinations have led to the choices of the individual subjects of the 18 previous sections — some of which are rational and thus can be rationalized, and some of which are irrational and thus can’t be. To say that I could have just as easily picked 18 other filmmakers would be accurate only if I had equal access to the films of every candidate. Yet some of the arbitrariness of the final selection — particularly in relation to the vicissitudes of American distribution and other kinds of information flow — has to be recognized.… Read more »

Don’t Judge a Film by Its Venue [BLACK BOOK & OFFSIDE]

From the Chicago Reader (April 20, 2007).  The severe sentencing of Jafar Panahi, the director of Offside, after this article was published has made his remarkable (and earlier) filmmaking more vital and relevant than ever. — J.R.


BLACK BOOK ****

DIRECTED BY PAUL VERHOEVEN

WRITTEN BY GERARD SOETEMAN AND VERHOEVEN

WITH CARICE VAN HOUTEN, SEBASTIAN KOCH, THOM HOFFMAN, HALINA REIJN, WALDEMAR KOBUS, AND DEREK DE LINT

OFFSIDE ****

DIRECTED BY JAFAR PANAHI

WRITTEN BY PANAHI AND SHADMEHR RASTIN

WITH SIMA MOBARAK SHAHI, SAFAR SAMANDAR, SHAYESTEH IRANI, M. KHEYRABADI, and IDA SADEGHI

The recent successes of such films as Pan’s Labyrinth, Volver, and The Lives of Others at multiplexes is a welcome sign that art-house ghettos aren’t the only places for foreign-language films anymore. Art houses, like multiplexes, tend to foster certain expectations about the movies we go to see in them, and sometimes we miss out on what a film has to offer as a consequence. Paul Verhoeven’s big-budget drama Black Book, which opened last week at the Music Box and is now also playing at some more commercial venues, and Jafar Panahi’s low-budget comedy Offside, which opens this week at the Music Box, both confound expectations.… Read more »

Great 30s Movies on DVD (…and a few that should be)

 Commissioned by DVD Beaver, and published by that site in February 2010. I’ve updated or added a few links, delighted to report that all the unavailable items can now be accessed in some form or another.I was inspired to repost this after just reseeing Sternberg’s sublime Dishonored in Criterion’s handsome new Dietrich and Von Sternberg in Hollywood box set. I’ve also just reseen the lovely if politically incoherent  Shanghai Express in the same package, and I wonder if it’s possible that the relative neglect accorded to Dishonored, by cinephiles and academics alike, may have something to do with the fact that it’s the Hollywood feature of  Dietrich and Von Sternberg that has the most to say about the real world — not only because it begins and ends in Vienna, but also because, as an antiwar statement that a prostitute can do more for her countryman than a female spy can do for her country, it has the most effective strategies for combining genre elements with personal fantasies and moral convictions, in part through its diverse  metaphors regarding art (Dietrich’s piano playing as it serves both passion and state) and glamor (a sword blade used as a makeup mirror in the final scene).
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The Stuff of Dreams [on SUNRISE]

From The Guardian, January 31, 2004. — J.R.

Some film industry bigwigs dream of owning a Rembrandt. In the 1920s, William Fox, head of Hollywood’s Fox studio, wanted a Murnau. A prestigious German director in his late 30s, F.W. Murnau already had 17 German features to his credit (only nine of which survive today). But this was an unprecedented case of a well-stocked studio giving carte blanche to a foreign director simply for the sake of prestige. Murnau took advantage of this opportunity by creating a universal fable that, as an opening intertitle put it, could take place anywhere and at any time: his 1927 masterpiece, Sunrise.

The standard line about the film is that it lost piles of money for Fox. Maybe it did. But film history often consists of writers dutifully copying the mistakes of their predecessors, and I’m afraid I have to plead guilty to having perpetuated this particular story myself. According to film curator David Pierce, “Sunrise was Fox’s third-highest-grossing film for 1928, surpassed only by Frank Borzage’s Seventh Heaven and John Ford’s Four Sons” — both films that were visibly influenced by Murnau. (The first, for starters, employed Gaynor, the second, some of Sunrise‘s sets.)… Read more »

Unified Theory [METROPOLIS]

This appeared in the August 16, 2002 issue of the Chicago Reader. I more recently had occasion to return to this film and some of my thoughts about it when I joined David Kalat to do an audio commentary on the expanded (and now nearly complete) version of Metropolis for the English DVD of Masters of Cinema. In fact, the essay below was used by Masters of Cinema in the accompanying booklet of their previous edition of  the film, and an updated version of this piece appeared in the next one. — J.R.

Metropolis

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Fritz Lang

Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou

With Gustav Frohlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Theodor Loos, and Heinrich George.

The internationalism of filmic language will become the strongest instrument available for the mutual understanding of peoples, who otherwise have such difficulty understanding each other in all too many languages. To bestow upon film the double gift of ideas and soul is the task that lies before us.

We will realize it! — Fritz Lang, in an article published in 1926

Lang’s utopian rallying cry, written in Germany during the editing of Metropolis, is well worth recalling today.… Read more »

Interruption As Style: Buñuel’s THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE

From the Winter 1972–1973 Sight and Sound. — J.R.

REPORTER: Who are your favorite characters in the movie?

BUÑUEL: The cockroaches.

— from an interview in Newsweek

“Once upon a time . . .” begins UN CHIEN ANDALOU, in mockery of a narrative form that it seeks to obliterate, and from this title onward, Buñuel’s cinema largely comprises a search for an alternative form to contain his passions. After dispensing with plot entirely in UN CHIEN ANDALOU, L’AGE D’OR, and LAS HURDES, his first three films, and remaining inactive as a director for the next fifteen years (1932–1947), Buñuel has been wrestling ever since with the problem of reconciling his surrealistic and anarchistic reflexes to the logic of story lines. How does a sworn enemy of the bourgeoisie keep his identity while devoting himself to bourgeois forms in a bourgeois industry? Either by subverting these forms or by trying to adjust them to his own purposes; and much of the tension in Buñuel’s work has come from the play between these two possibilities.

Buñuel can always tell a tale when he wants to, but the better part of his brilliance lies elsewhere.… Read more »

Notes Toward the Devaluation of Woody Allen

This appeared originally in the May-June 1990 issue of Tikkun, and was reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism, five years later. — J.R.

“Why are the French so crazy about Jerry Lewis?” is a recurring question posed by film buffs in the United States, but, sad to say, it is almost invariably asked rhetorically. When Dick Cavett tried it out several years ago on Jean-Luc Godard, one of Lewis’s biggest defenders, it quickly became apparent that Cavett had no interest in hearing an answer, and he immediately changed the subject as soon as Godard began to provide one. Nevertheless it’s a question worth posing seriously, along with a few related ones — even at the risk of courting disbelief and giving offense.

Why are American intellectuals so contemptuous of Jerry Lewis and so crazy about Woody Allen? Apart from such obvious differences as the fact that Allen cites Kierkegaard and Lewis doesn’t, what is it that gives Allen such an exalted cultural status in this country, and Lewis virtually no cultural status at all? (Charlie Chaplin cited Schopenhauer in MONSIEUR VERDOUX, but surely that isn’t the reason why we continue to honor him.)… Read more »

War Is Swell [HOPE AND GLORY]

From the Chicago Reader (November 13, 1987). — J.R.

HOPE AND GLORY

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by John Boorman

With Sebastian Rice Edwards, Sarah Miles, David Hayman, Derrick O’Connor, Susan Wooldridge, Sammi Davis, and Ian Bannen.

Disasters sometimes take on a certain nostalgic coziness when seen through the filter of public memory. Southerners’ recollections of the Civil War and the afterglow felt by many who lived through the Depression are probably the two strongest examples of this in our national history — perhaps because such catastrophes tend to bring people together out of fear and necessity, obliterating many of the artificial barriers that keep them apart in calmer times. When I attended an interracial, coed camp for teenagers in Tennessee in the summer of 1961, shortly after the Freedom Rides, the very fact that our lives were in potential danger every time we left the grounds en masse — or were threatened with raids by local irate whites — automatically turned all of us into an extended family. Considering some of the cultural differences between us, I wonder if we could have bridged the gaps so speedily if the fear of mutually shared violence hadn’t been so palpable.

The images that we inherit of other people’s disasters are often suffused by a similar nostalgia.… Read more »

Bright Spots in the Darkness [My 1998 Top Ten List]

In retrospect, it’s amazing to me how many good films I saw in 1998 — as evidenced by my ten-best piece for the Chicago Reader, published January 8, 1999. (P.S. The still at the very end of this article is from Masumura’s Red Angel, which I’m happy to say is now available on DVD, along with most of the films on this ten-best list.) 

On September 24, 2010, “The Stunner” [sic] sent me the following message on MUBI: “I found this entry on your blog, about Manoel de Oliveira’s ‘Inquietude’ on your top 10 movies of 1998:’I prefer the French and Portuguese title of this three-part feature — which my dictionary defines as ‘disturbed state’— to its English title, Anxiety.’ A better translation for ‘inquietude’, in my opinion, would be something like ‘intranquility,’ ‘agitation’, or “inquietness’ — these are all good and quite literal translations and I, being Portuguese, think they are accurate synonyms.” — J.R.

What do we mean when we declare something or someone “the best”? Last month, during my first visit to Tokyo, I served on a panel about the late Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu along with director Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hou’s principal screenwriter, the president of Tokyo University, and two French critics associated with Cahiers du Cinema.… Read more »

Poetry in Motion [THELMA & LOUISE]

From the June 7, 1991 Chicago Reader. Try hitting the second and fourth photos here with your cursor. — J.R.

THELMA & LOUISE

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Written by Callie Khouri

With Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Pitt, Timothy Carhart, and Lucinda Jenny.

I’m not quite sure precisely when Thelma & Louise kicks into high gear. Does it happen when Thelma (Geena Davis) holds up a convenience store, or much earlier, when Louise (Susan Sarandon) shoots a rapist (Timothy Carhart)? Does it happen when Thelma’s tyrannical husband (Christopher McDonald) steps on a pizza, or when Louise divests herself of her watch and jewelry in exchange for an old coot’s sun hat?

Whenever it happens, something starts to click, and the movie becomes mythical — mutates into a sort of classic before one’s eyes. This isn’t to say that it can thenceforth do no wrong; the flashback shots that punctuate the final credits are lamentable, a cheap attempt to add uplift to an ending that doesn’t need it. But the movie does take on a certain charmed existence, persuading one to forgive such lapses. After a rather slow beginning, this prosy film turns poetic; and when that happens, we’re no longer passive bystanders but active participants, along for the ride morally as well as physically.… Read more »

Review of Five Books about John Cassavetes

From Cineaste (December 2001).

For a long time, I hesitated about reprinting this, but learning about Ray Carney’s unspeakable treatment of filmmaker Mark Rappaport (as detailed here) eliminated my compunctions.

For more about Rappaport’s work, here are three of the many links on this site:

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2014/05/40758/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2018/05/mark-rappaport-2/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2015/04/recommnded-viewing-mark-rappaports-i-dalio/

— J.R.

 

Cassavetes on Cassavetes
Edited by Ray Carney. London and New York: Faber and Faber, 2001. 526 pp., illus. Paperback: $25.00.

The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
by Ray Carney. Cambridge, New York and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 322 pp., illus. Paperback: $24.95.

John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity
by Ray Carney. Second Edition. Walpole, MA: Company C Publishing, 2000. 64 pp., illus. Paperback: $15.00.

Shadows
by Ray Carney. London: British Film Institute (BFI Film Classics), 2001. 87 pp., illus. Paperback: $12.95.

John Cassavetes: Lifeworks
by Tom Charity. London, New York and Victoria: Omnibus Press, 2001. 257 pp., illus. Paperback: $19.95.

As nearly as I can remember, I had two opportunities to meet John Cassavetes in the flesh, both times in New York, and I deliberately passed on both of them. Shortly after Faces came out in the mid-Sixties, a friend from my home town in Alabama who worshipped that film even more than I did — Shadows was still my own favorite then — came to town and found a way of contacting and then going to meet his idol, who was preparing Husbands at the time; he invited me to come along, and I declined.… Read more »

Acts of Defiance [SAVAGE NIGHTS]

From the Chicago Reader (March 25, 1994).  — J.R.

*** SAVAGE NIGHTS

Directed by Cyril Collard

Written by Collard and Jacques Fieschi

With Collard, Romane Bohringer, Carlos Lopez, Corine Blue, Claude Winter, Denis D’Archangelo, and Jean-Jacques Jauffret.

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If memory serves, the first time I ever heard of Sylvia Plath was the first time a lot of other people heard of her — in the mid-60s, a few years after she committed suicide, when her posthumous collection Ariel was published. I recall a teacher of mine in graduate school remarking that Plath’s suicide validated her late poetry, implying that if she hadn’t actually taken her own life, poems such as “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy” wouldn’t have meant as much as they did — indeed, may not even have been “as good.”

The remark offended me at the time, but in retrospect I wonder if in some awful, seldom-acknowledged way my teacher was right. Many of us prefer to believe that works of art should be self-justifying, and therefore demand to be taken on their own terms, without “outside” information, but the fact remains that the hyperactive media and life itself rarely offer us that luxury. Take, for instance, these two consecutive stanzas in “Lady Lazarus” — “Dying / Is an art, like everything else.… Read more »

Eye of the Beholder

From the Chicago Reader (January 28, 2000). — J.R.

L’ennui

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Cedric Kahn

Written by Kahn and Laurence Ferreira Barbosa

With Charles Berling, Sophie Guillemin, Arielle Dombasle, Robert Kramer, Alice Grey, Maurice Antoni, and Tom Ouedraogo.

“To think that I’ve wasted years of my life, that I’ve longed to die, that I’ve experienced my greatest love, for a woman who didn’t appeal to me, who wasn’t even my type!” This despairing reflection by Swann about Gilberte appears at the very end of “Swann in Love,” the longest chapter — a little over 200 pages — in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way. The chapter serves as a rehearsal for the even more torturous obsessive love of Marcel, the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past, for Albertine — a topic that practically becomes the novel’s principal subject over the thousands of pages to come.

This acknowledgment of the neurotic irrationality that underlies amorous and erotic obsessions is one of Proust’s key passages, and I was reminded of it periodically over the course of Cedric Kahn’s brilliant and hilarious new sex comedy, L’ennui. Yet one of the most striking aspects of the film — adapted from La noia, a 1960 novel by Alberto Moravia that I haven’t read (also the source for a trashy Bette Davis vehicle, The Empty Canvas) — is the way it confounds its Proustian model of jealousy and sexual paranoia with a dash of healthy common sense.… Read more »

EXCHANGE WITH JONATHAN ROSENBAUM

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 »

RED PSALM (1971)

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 »