Monthly Archives: July 2021

Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies

From Sight and Sound (Summer 1973). – J.R.

FILM AS FILM: Understanding and Judging Movies

By V.F. Perkins

PENGUIN BOOKS, 35p

Responding polemically to some of the more antiquated notions found in Rotha, Lindgren, Manvell, Arnheim and others, the title of Victor Perkins’ short and engaging book carries a sympathetic resonance. A major part of his enterprise is to clear away cobwebs from the attics of film theory and lay a few outdated texbooks to rest, and ‘Film as Film’ adequately summarizes the central thrust of his yarious charges. But as we know, theories arc usually debunked to clear the way for newer models, and as soon as Perkins’ own theory gets under way, his title begins to seem much more inclusive than anything he claims to offer in his text. Unavoidably, alternate titles come to mind: “Action as Presentation”, or, perhaps more to the point, ‘Movie as Movie’.

As Perkins indicates in his preface, ‘The examples discussed are not drawn from the (rightly or wrongly) accepted classics of Film Art nor from the fashionable “triumphs” of the past few years, but generally from films which seem to representwhat the Movies meant to their public in the cinema’s commercial heyday.’… Read more »

Buried Treasures

From the Toronto Festival of Festivals program (September 10-19, 1981).

To quote from my long review of Pulp Fiction and Ed Wood (which can be accessed on this site), “Fourteen years ago, when the Toronto film festival still had a sidebar called ‘Buried Treasures,’ selected each year by a guest critic, I was invited to take over that slot. I put together a program called ‘Bad Movies,’ intending to play with the ambiguity of the word ‘bad’ — the only thing these films had in common, apart from the fact that I liked them, was that each of them had been pegged with that label at some point….

“This was the theory, at any rate — that all my selections were good movies that had wrongly been considered bad. But in practice, the single smash success of the series, in terms of both attendance and audience response, was Wood’s Glen or Glenda?, a film appreciated by the audience only for its badness. And since then, the evidence increasingly provided by movie fanzines — which by now far outnumber “serious” film magazines — is that among film cultists, bad movies are immensely more popular than good ones. Or, to put it in more concrete terms, at that festival the North American premiere of the penultimate, two-part masterwork of Fritz Lang, [The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Hindu Tomb], one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived, was much less popular than the latest replay of a low-budget exploitation item by an inept amateur.Read more »

Jacques Rivette: Babel and the Void

An essay written for Toronto’s Cinematheque Ontario program guide (February 2007). –- J.R.

1200px-Jacques_Rivette_5_(cropped)

For better and for worse, and principally the latter, Jacques Rivette has been singled out as the former Cahiers du Cinema film critic who makes the least commercial films, as well as the longest ones. But for the record, the films of the always-neglected Luc Moullet [screened in Cinematheque Ontario’s Spring 2006 season –- ed.] are generally less commercial than those of Rivette. And even what we mean when we say “longest films” is open to some debate. (After all, the over twelve-hour OUT 1: NOLI ME TANGERE was conceived as a TV serial, and Jean-Luc Godard’s own first TV series, made a few years later, was just as long.)

The problem with such caricatures is they generally function as excuses for why some spectators won’t deal with Rivette’s films rather than as viable descriptions of what they offer. Yes, his features tend to be long and they work with duration. Furthermore, when two versions have been made of some of them –- unauthorized in the case of L’AMOUR FOU, authorized in the cases of L’AMOUR PAR TERRE and LA BELLE NOISEUSE/ DIVERTIMENTO – the longer version is almost always superior.… Read more »

Sátántangó (Film and Novel) as Faulknerian Reverie

In most respects, I’m delighted and honored that a version of the following essay was published in Issue Two of the journal Music & Literature, which is devoted to László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr, and Max Neumann, In fact, this essay was commissioned by the editors of this handsome special issue, and my only reason for posting my original version is that a few stylistic edits were made, in what I’m sure were sincere efforts to clarify some of the entanglements in my lengthy sentences, that unfortunately yielded some embarrassing factual errors in the piece, as well as a few significant cuts. (It now appears that I read portions of the French translation of Krasznahorkai’s novel before I ever saw Tarr’s film and that Erich Auerbach’s great book Mimesis now includes an analysis of Light in August that no one has previously read; and the remarkable observation from Dan Gunn that I quoted has been deleted.) So, just to keep the record straight, here, for better and for worse, is exactly what I wrote. More recently, in mid-January 2015, I belatedly received a copy of this article with the above Introduction reprinted in Scalarama, a publication put together by Stanley Schtinter to accompany a tour of Sátántangó in the U.K.Read more »

Circle’s Short Circuit

From the Chicago Reader (September 17, 1999). I’ve been dying to see this film again, but I’ll never be rich enough to rent or buy it from the Video Data Bank. Who is? — J.R.

CirclesShortCircuit

This 1998 Caspar Stracke feature is one of the rare experimental films in 35-millimeter, and though I could preview it only on video, it kept me fascinated even in that format. Stracke describes it as moving in a circle with neither a beginning nor an end; in the version I saw, the credits come in the middle. A lecture on the philosophical and psychoanalytic implications of the invention of the telephone by theorist Avital Ronell eventually turns into a story in black and white about a woman who has a lotus blossom growing in her left lung; at different times this film comes across as documentary, essay, performance art, and silent throwback (complete with intertitles and irises), and the capabilities and rhetoric associated with both computers and VCRs play a part in the continuously shifting and evolving discourse. Stracke will be present at the screening. Kino-Eye Cinema at Cinema Borealis, 1550 N. Milwaukee, Friday, September 17, 8:00, 773-293-1447. — Jonathan Rosenbaum

circles-short-circuit

circles_short_circuit

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Good Cop, Bad Cop (MIAMI BLUES & Q&A)

Since writing this for the April 27, 1990 issue of the Chicago Reader, I’ve become an even bigger fan of Charles Willeford’s four Hoke Moseley novels; some of their virtues remind me of John Updike’s novels about Rabbit Angstrom. My favorite of these Moseley novels remains Sideswipe. — J.R.

MIAMI BLUES

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by George Armitage

With Fred Ward, Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nora Dunn, Charles Napier, Obba Babatunde, and Shirley Stoler.

Q&A

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Sidney Lumet

With Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton, Armand Assante, Patrick O’Neal, Lee Richardson, Luis Guzman, Charles Dutton, Jenny Lumet, and Paul Calderon.

The ambiguous power and image of the policeman stand at the center of two better-than-average crime pictures playing at the moment, both of them the work of writer-directors adapting novels by others. Part of the merit of these two otherwise very different movies is that neither one depends on either of the compulsively overworked subgenres that currently dominate the scene — the cop-buddy action thriller derived from TV or the hunt for the serial killer derived from Dirty Harry.

I have less of an aversion to the cop-movie genre per se than to what this genre has become.… Read more »

Il Cinema Ritrovato DVD Awards 2014

DVD AWARDS 2014

XI edition

Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli [absent from photo], Alexander Horwath, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti and Jonathan Rosenbaum, chaired by Peter von Bagh

DVD Jury 2014

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON BLU-RAY:

LATE MIZOGUCHI – EIGHT FILMS, 1951-1956  (Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan)  – Eureka Entertainment

The publication of eight indisputable masterpieces in stellar transfers on Blu-Ray is a cause for celebration. If Eureka is not exclusive in offering these individual titles, what makes this collection especially praiseworthy and indispensable is the scholarship, imagination and care that went into the accompanying 344-page booklet. Over 60 rare production stills are included, many featuring Mizoguchi at work. Striking essays by Keiko I. McDonald, Mark Le Fanu, and Nakagawa Masako are anthologized along with extensively annotated translations of some of the key sources of Japanese literature that inspired some of Mizoguchi’s late films. The volume closes with tributes to the great director written by Tarkovsky, Rivette, Godard, Straub, Angelopoulos, Shinoda, and others. Tony Rayns provides spoken essays and some full-length commentaries.

 

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON DVD:

PINTILIE, CINEAST (Lucian Pintilie, Romania) – Transilvania Films

An impeccable collection devoted to eleven films by an important and neglected maverick Romanian filmmaker, masterful and acerbic, with invaluable contextualizing extras concerning his life, work, and career drawn from ten separate sources.… Read more »

Old Remake for a New City?

From The Soho News (June 11, 1980). Note: The “Hollywood assistant” quoted below was Meredith Brody, working at the time for A-Team. —  J.R.

Underground U.S.A.

 

A film by Eric Mitchell

 

St. Mark’s Cinema, midnight

“Sometimes I think most of the ’70s is being spent in

cars, discussing remakes,” a Hollywood assistant once

woefully remarked to me. She didn’t know how lucky she

was. Sometimes, in my less happy moods, I think that

most of the 80s will be spent in theaters, watching the

same remakes that were being discussed in the ’70s.

Willie & Phil –– Paul Mazursky’s remake of Jules and

Jim, set in the American ’70s — isn’t opening for a couple

of months yet. John Carpenter’s The Fog and several

other recent quickies have already remade Carpenter’s

Halloween, which was itself a partial remake of The Thing

(which Carpenter is now planning to remake more directly).

And to round off this minisurvey of new, original

thinking (if you want to exalt the conventional, call it

classical), the new Eric Mitchell film, the l6mm

Underground U.S.A., which already sounds like a remake

of Sam Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A. — is actually

described in its own pressbook as a remake of a remake:

“Taking the classic theme of Sunset Boulevard seen

through Heat,” Underground U.S.ARead more »

Penn & Teller Get Killed

From the Chicago Reader (November 3, 1989). — J.R.

Whether or not this goofy black comedy is a total “success” is debatable, but you’ve got to admit it’s pretty different from anything else around. Postmodern comic magicians Penn Jillette and Teller play themselves in a script of their own devising that is deftly delivered by director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Night Moves). After Jillette brazenly announces on national TV that his life would be more exciting if someone tried to kill him, a bizarre series of murder attempts ensues during an engagement in Atlantic City, but it becomes increasingly difficult to determine who’s pulling the strings. Deconstructing illusion, Penn and Teller’s stock in trade, becomes the modus operandi of the plot — like a farcical version of House of Games, with heaps of good-natured gore added and a literally unbelievable grand finale — and the dynamic duo make the most of it. With Caitlin Clarke, David Patrick Kelly, Leonardo Cimino, and Celia McGuire. (Biograph)

Read more »

Play it again: Review of THE CULT FILM EXPERIENCE

From Sight and Sound (November 1991). -– J.R.

Play it again

________________________________________________________

Jonathan Rosenbaum

________________________________________________________

The Cult Film Experience: Beyond AII Reason

J. P. Telotte (ed), University of Texas Press,

$36, 218 pp.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

________________________________________________________

“It will be a sad day when a too smart audience will read Casablanca as conceived by Michael Curtiz after having read Calvino and Barthes”, Umberto Eco wrote in 1984. “But that day will come”. J. P. Telotte’s collection reminds us that Eco’s sad day is already well behind us — though it turns out to be Eco himself rather than Calvino or Barthes who provides the principal theoretical back-up.

Serious analysis of film cults can be traced back to a 1932 essay by Harry Alan Potamkin, but you won’t find Potamkin’s name in Telotte’s index. Indeed, apart from some cursory acknowledgments, the book fosters the impression that the arrival of film cults coincided with the burgeoning of film studies in the early 70s. This suggests that academic film study is itself an unacknowledged form of cult activity predicated on repeated viewings by a fetishistically inclined minority audience which reappropriates the film in question for its own specialized purposes.

One of these purposes is institutional, which accounts for the academics’ frequent recourse to the self- validating and ahistorical term ‘classical’ to dignify both mainstream movie-making and established film theory.… Read more »

On the Internet, No One Can Hear You Think (or, Datelessness Equals Cluelessness)

The avoidance or frequent absence of history on the Internet is often a problem, but I’ve rarely seen it exploited so shamelessly and cripplingly as it is in a post supposedly “celebrating” Godard’s 82th birthday that quotes fifteen filmmakers on the subject of Godard, including Godard himself, arranged alphabetically from Chantal Akerman to Wim Wenders.

Let’s start with the first sentence in the first quotation, from Akerman: “You can see him excluding himself from the world in an almost autistic manner.” Is this the Godard of For Ever Mozart, the Godard of Film Socialisme, or a much earlier Godard?  It’s impossible to understand, much less evaluate what Akerman is saying, without knowing the answer to this question. Pretend that this doesn’t matter and you’re pointlessly sliming both Akerman and Godard, for no good reason.

Five quotes later, we get, “Luis Buñuel: I’ll give him two years more, he is just a fashion.” Obviously, this statement was made when Buñuel was still alive, which means he had to have said it at some point between, say, 1960 and 1983. Lots of leg room in there — about 30 features’ worth.

And one quote later, from Godard himself: “I am not an auteur, well, not now anyway.”Read more »

Ten Best Films Directed by Women

The BBC has just asked me for this list. I took care to split this evenly between fiction and non-fiction. — J.R.

thehouseisblack2

TheEnchantedDesna

mix-up-dvd

vagabond

asthenic-syndrome

passionless-moments

fromtheotherside

YouAreNotI-Sister

daisies

aragane-still03

1. The House is Black (Forough Farrokhzad, 1963)

2. The Enchanted Desna (Yulia Solntseva, 1964)

3. Mix-up ou Méli-Mélo (Françoise Romand, 1986)

4. Vagabond  (Agnès Varda, 1985)

5. The Asthenic Syndrome (Kira Muratova, 1989)

6. Passionless Moments  (Jane Campion, 1983)

7. From the Other Side  (Chantal Akerman, 2002)

8. You Are Not I  (Sara Driver, 1981)

9. Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966)

10. Aragane  (Oda Kaori, 2015)… Read more »

Are We Having Fun Yet?

From the Chicago Reader (June 7, 1996). — J.R.

Mission: Impossible

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Brian De Palma

Written by David Koepp, Steven Zaillian, and Robert Towne

With Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Beart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott-Thomas, and Vanessa Redgrave.

The Phantom

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Simon Wincer

Written by Jeffrey Boam

With Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Catherine Zeta Jones, James Remar, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.

My Favorite Season

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Andre Téchiné

Written by Téchiné and Pascal Bonitzer

With Catherine Deneuve, Daniel Auteuil, Marthe Villalonga, Jean-Pierre Bouvier, Chiara Mastroianni, Carmen Chaplin, Anthony Prada, and Michèle Moretti.

http://michaelmay.us/08blog/10/1023_phantom.jpg

I think that one never grows up emotionally. We grow up physically, intellectually, socially, and even morally but never emotionally. Recognition of this fact can be either terrifying or deeply moving. Everyone handles it in their own way. — Andre Téchiné

The principal pleasure of the Cannes festival for me was a two-week vacation from the “fun” of American movies. Maybe this fun — which points to our inability to grow up emotionally — would seem less oppressive if it didn’t also inform the American experience of news, politics, fast food, sports, economics, education, religion, and leisure in general; this kind of fun is less an escape than an enforced activity, a veritable civic duty.… Read more »

Susan Sontag’s PROMISED LANDS

I wasn’t ready for Susan Sontag’s non-fiction film about the 1973 Yom Kippur War in 1974, and I’m not at all sure that I’m ready for it even now, on the DVD released by Zeitgeist and Kim Stim. But there’s no question that part of my perspective on it has changed. For one thing, this film obviously needs to be cross-referenced with her book of thirty years later, Regarding the Pain of Others. Furthermore, in 1974, when I attended Susan’s private screening of Promised Lands in Paris, I was probably expecting to hear her words and her voice, her writerly badges, and I was surprised that I got neither: the voices and words are mainly those of three unnamed individuals — Yoram Kaniuk (for me the most sympathetic commentator), Yuval Ne’emangood, and a psychiatrist at the end who claims to be offering therapy to a shellshocked Israeli soldier under a drug-induced trance when he contrives to recreate the soldier’s wartime trauma, complete with brutal sound effects. (After the screening, Sontag described the latter aptly and with considerable horror as “Docteur Folamour”  — the French name for Dr. Strangelove — and I strongly suspect that it was this sequence that led to the film originally being banned in Israel.)… Read more »

JOHNNY GUITAR: The First Existential Western

Written for the Olive Films Blu-Ray, which came out in 2016. — J.R.

johnny-guitar-dialogue

François Truffaut called it the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns, without saying who was the beauty and who was the beast. (One could find many candidates for either role). And Jean-Luc Godard, in his second feature, Le Petit Soldat, offered a spin on the movie’s most celebrated dialogue exchange, before offering explicit references to Johnny Guitar in several other films he made in the 60s:

Johnny (Sterling Hayden): Tell me something nice.

Vienna (Joan Crawford): Sure. What would you like to hear?

Johnny: Lie to me, tell me that all these years you’ve waited, tell me.

Vienna: All these years I’ve waited.

Johnny: Tell me you’d have died if I hadn’t come back.

Vienna: I would have died if you hadn’t come back.

Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.

Vienna: I still love you like you love me.

Johnny (softly and sarcastically, about to down another shot of whisky):

Thanks.

 

Bruno (Michel Subor): Lie to me . . . Say you aren’t sad that I’m leaving.

Véronica (Anna Karina): I’m not sad that you’re leaving. I’m not in love

with you. I won’t join you in Brazil.Read more »