Daily Archives: July 11, 2021

Social Climbing (THE AGE OF INNOCENCE)

This remains one of the most controversial reviews I ever published in the Chicago Reader (it ran in their September 17, 1993 issue) — occasioning many outcries, especially for my use of the term “drooling paisan” (although many others also quarreled with my point about apostrophes). No one, however, seemed to have had any quarrels with my treatment of Edith Wharton. — J.R.

THE AGE OF INNOCENCE

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Written by Jay Cocks and Scorsese

With Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Stuart Wilson, Miriam Margolyes, Geraldine Chaplin, Mary Beth Hurt, and Norman Lloyd.

Martin Scorsese clearly intends The Age of Innocence — his close adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel about wealthy New York society in the 1870s — to earn him a bouquet of Oscars. But the high literary tone was somewhat blown for me by the opening title, immediately following a lush credits sequence of flower blossoms unfurling behind dainty fabric: “New York City, the 1870’s.” That superfluous apostrophe doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that Scorsese is the ideal interpreter of Edith Wharton.

Fortunately the movie improves after that, but never to the point that one can entirely forget that slip at the beginning. If the project winds up a noble failure, testifying throughout to Scorsese’s resourcefulness in plowing through an impossible mission — much better to my taste than Cape Fear, and considerably more likable (if less successful) than GoodFellas — it may be because the subject is diametrically opposed to what he usually does best as a filmmaker.… Read more »

On ORSON WELLES AND ROGER HILL: A FRIENDSHIP IN THREE ACTS

Almost seven years have passed since I quoted from the manuscript of this wonderful book in the Introduction to my own Discovering Orson Welles. At that point the subtitle of Todd Tarbox’s book was A Friendship in Four Acts, but if anything, the book has only grown since then, both physically and in terms of readability. In short, it’s been well worth the wait. (June 2014 footnote: For more details, including an excerpt from one of the Welles/Hill conversations, go to Todd Tarbox’s  radio interview with Rick Kogan, here.) — J.R.

The major and longest-lasting close friendship of Orson Welles’s life was with one of his earliest role models — his teacher, advisor, and theatrical mentor at the Todd School who later became the school’s headmaster, Roger Hill. By editing and arranging many of their recorded conversations at the end of Welles’s life and career, Hill’s grandson, Todd Tarbox, has given us invaluable and candidly intimate glimpses into many of its stages, especially ones towards the beginning and end of that diverse and complicated saga. In the process, he also confounds and complicates the array of “weak” and flawed father figures that populate most of Welles’ films, all the way from Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersonsthrough The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, Don Quixote, and The Other Side of the Wind, with a bracing and ennobling alternative to that pattern, an unwavering relationship of mutual admiration and respect that was a clear source of strength to both of them.… Read more »

Esoterica

The year is 1921, the place Sylvia Beach’s celebrated Shakespeare and Company, publisher of the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Rue de l’Odéon, Paris. The figures, reading from left to right, are John Rodker, James Joyce, Sylvia Beach, and her younger sister Cyprian — the only one shown reading, to whom Sylvia dedicated the first edition of Ulysses.

In a review of Sylvia Beach’s letters by James Campbell in the March 19 issue of the Times Literary Supplement I learn that Cyprian “played `Belles Mirettes’ in the French silent film series Judex“. After some rummaging around, I discover that, in fact, `Miss Cyprien Giles’ played Gaby Belles Mirettes, a member of a criminal gang, in La Nouvelle Mission de Judex (1918), the only one of Louis Feuillade’s major crime serials I’ve never seen, and, according to the Internet Movie Database, appeared later in The Fortune Teller (1920), L’aiglonne (1921), and L’amie d’enfance (1922). And from Campbell’s review I learn that “she later lived with a somewhat better-known actress, Helen Jerome Eddy” (see photo below) — an actress who lived from 1897 to 1990 and who, according to the same IMDB, appeared in 130 films (not always credited) between 1915 and 1947, including The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Man’s Castle, and Bride of Frankenstein.… Read more »

Pale Noir [TRIXIE]

From the Chicago Reader (July 14, 2000). — J.R.

Trixie

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Alan Rudolph

With Emily Watson, Dermot Mulroney, Nick Nolte, Nathan Lane, Brittany Murphy, Lesley Ann Warren, Will Patton, and Stephen Lang.

[Trixie] is propelled by this need in her own personality to accomplish something and find the truth. But of course, the truth doesn’t exist anymore. The truth now seems to be whatever gets the most applause. — Alan Rudolph in an interview

Alan Rudolph’s previous feature, Breakfast of Champions (1999), probably his best since Choose Me (1984), is an abrasive, angry, formally imaginative, and generally faithful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s book of the same name. It has a lot going for it, including Bruce Willis, who helped finance it, as a blustering car dealer, one of his best performances to date; Barbara Hershey as his pill-popping wife; Nick Nolte as his sales manager and best friend, who guiltily harbors a fetish for lingerie; and Albert Finney as Vonnegut’s dark doppelganger, itinerant hack SF writer Kilgore Trout. It was easily last year’s most corrosive Hollywood movie about the American way of life, and it was especially good at showing the claustrophobic desperation of living in a small midwestern town and slowly going insane — a potent literary theme at least since Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.… Read more »