Monthly Archives: August 2021

Casablanca

From the April 1, 1992 Chicago Reader. — J.R,

Part of what makes this wartime Hollywood drama (1942) about love and political commitment so fondly remembered is its evocation of a time when the sentiment of this country about certain things appeared to be unified. (It’s been suggested that Communism is the political involvement that Bogart’s grizzled casino owner Rick may be in retreat from at the beginning.) This hastily patched together picture, which started out as a B film, wound up getting an Oscar, and displays a cozy, studio-bound claustrophobia that Howard Hawks improved upon in his superior spin-off To Have and Have Not. Then again, we get Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Marcel Dalio, and S.Z. Sakall, and Dooley Wilson performing “As Time Goes By”. PG, 102 min. (JR)

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The Other Side of the Argument: First Thoughts on Orson Welles’ Demonic Fugue

Written for my collection Cinematic Encounters 2: Portraits and Polemics (2019), although it has also appeared by now in Spanish (in Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, November 2018), in Persian (in Sazandegi, December 19-20, 2018), and in French (in Trafic, March 2019). The Other Side of the Wind is still visible and available on Netflix, but I think we’re still a long way from it being adequately “digested” or coherently dismissed, much less adequately defined. (I’ve also heard from Criterion, which has an arrangement with Netflix, that they have no plans to release the film digitally.) Even those who consider it a failure haven’t, for the most part, come up with very persuasive accounts of what it is and does. Superficial replays of rumors about the film that circulated decades ago, many of them half-baked, continue to predominate. But of course this is nothing new when it comes to groping after the meaning and value of Welles’ work, which rarely comes at the time a film is released,. — J.R.

The Other Side of the Argument:

First Thoughts on Orson Welles’s Demonic Fugue

TheOtherSideoftheWind

The only time I ever met Orson Welles — in 1972, in response to a letter of mine, to discuss his very first Hollywood project, an updated adaptation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that I was writing about — I also had occasion to ask him about the status of his more recent projects.… Read more »

There’s Somebody Out There

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 1999). — J.R.

rosetta

I recently heard about an American teenager visiting Wales who insisted on calling the Welsh people she met English. When it was pointed out to her that the Welsh didn’t like being identified that way, she said she was sorry but that’s what she’d been taught in school — and it would be too complicated for her to change what she called them.

Given the isolationism of Americans, which seems to grow more pronounced every year, an event like the Chicago International Film Festival has to be cherished. This year it’s offering the city 108 features from 31 countries — 32 from the U.S. and 76 from elsewhere, 49 of them U.S. or North American premieres, as well as five programs of shorts and five tributes. Consider them cultural CARE packages, precious news bulletins, breaths of fresh, or stale, air from diverse corners of the globe — even bad or mediocre foreign movies have important things to teach us. However you look at them, they’re proof that Americans aren’t the only human beings and that the decisions Americans make about how to live their lives aren’t the only options — at least not yet.… Read more »

Reactionary Humor and Southern Comfort (review of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES)

This book review appeared in the August 27, 1980 issue of The Soho News.

I was moved to repost this review some time ago by the generous recent reference to it made by Sam Jordison in the Guardian. –– J.R.

A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole

Foreword by Walker Percy

Louisiana State University Press, $12.95

Is it by mere chance, or through some form of subtly earned tragic irony, that this brilliantly funny, reactionary novel is being published during a reactionary period, apparently about a decade and a half after it was written? God knows what it might have been like to read this in the mid-’60s. I suspect it would have been less warmly received — one reason, perhaps, why it wasn’t published way back then.

What I mean by Reactionary Humor is the boring literary schemes of Tom Sawyer, not the expedient escape tactics of Huck Finn. Broadly speaking, it’s what we learn to expect from the perennial antics of Blondie and Dagwood, Amos and Andy, Franny and Zooey, Laurel and Hardy (and Marie and Bruce, in Wallace Shawn’s recent play), not to mention W.C. Fields, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Archie Bunker, and Woody Allen.… Read more »

Comedy Mutations: A Dialogue with Xinyu Dong

From the May 2018 issue of Journal of Chinese Cinemas. — J.R.

XD: Jonathan, you and I are both cinephiles. Much of our conversation over the years has been about our favorite films and directors, and we nudge each other to watch or re-watch new releases and rediscovered classics. Now that we’re co-editing this special issue on comedy, I wonder, what are some of the most amusing moments for you in the Chinese-language films that you’ve seen? I ask about these cinephiliac moments because when a comic scene works, it tends to be highly memorable. And often what we find amusing can tell us a lot about the film as a whole: how it plays with comic conventions, how it addresses its audience, how it ages over time.

JR: I was especially amused by the point-of-view shots from inside an ATM in Peter Chan’s 1996 Comrades: Almost a Love Story (a particular favorite of mine), because of the whole idea of what we look like from the vantage point of our money – or, more specifically, what Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai, both mainlanders who meet one another in Hong Kong and try to “make it” there, look like to the ups and downs of their cash balances that epitomize much of their struggle.… Read more »

Woody on the Wild Side [MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY]

From the Chicago Reader (August 27, 1993). — J.R.

manhattan-murder-mystery1

MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Woody Allen

Written by Allen and Marshall Brickman

With Allen, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Jerry Adler, Joy Behar, Ron Rifkin, and Lynn Cohen.

It’s instructive to divvy up Woody Allen’s movies into “art films” and entertainments. Without too much boiling and scraping, I think you could say that the entertainments come from his first 11 years as a filmmaker, from What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966, now missing from the press-kit filmography) to Annie Hall (1977), while his art-film efforts extend from Interiors (1978) to Husbands and Wives (1992).

Some would argue that Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), coming halfway through the second period, belong to the entertainment category, along with “Oedipus Wrecks” (1989), his contribution to New York Stories, but I would beg to differ. (The first of these is in black and white, the second traffics in misery and pathos, and the third derives directly from Fellini’s episode in Boccaccio ’70 — the first pieces of counterevidence I’d cite.) Similarly, to those who’d claim that the “foreign movie” sketch in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972) pushes it into the art-movie category, I’d maintain that there’s a world of difference between this film’s parody of Antonioni and the pastiches of the later movies.… Read more »

UNCUT GEMS and The Messes We Make of Our Dreams

Commissioned and published by New York’s Metrograph Chronicle in mid-December 2019. — J.R.

Uncut-Gems-Movie-Cast-Adam-Sandler-Martin-Scorsese

“Would you forgive me if I die?”                                                                                   — Question asked in the first scene of Heaven Knows What

Safdies

The movies of Josh and Benny Safdie are dominated by compulsively impulsive hustlers who continuously revise their own lives as well as those of everyone else in their immediate vicinities, most often with chaotically disastrous consequences for everyone concerned. Maybe because these scheming and prevaricating characters know how to tell lies and (somewhat less often) how to apologize for or cover up their various messes, they also qualify, at least some of the time, as skillful escape artists as well as stylish con men. They exasperate their colleagues, spouses, and other family members, who almost invariably wind up forgiving these crumb-bums for their lies and deceptions after hearing their shame-faced apologies, which are typically followed by further deceptions. This dizzying pattern seems to culminate in their new film Uncut Gems, which registers at times as a slapstick remake of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992) — at least if one can allow for a substitution of a certain amount of manic Jewish optimism for depressive Catholic despair.… Read more »

RAISING CAIN

raisingcain01

I’m of two minds about Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain (1992), thanks to

Arrow Video’s spiffy three-disc dual format edition—specifically, about

what’s called Raising Cain: The Director’s Cut on disc #3 (“limited edition

Blu-Ray exclusive”), “a De Palma-endorsed recreation of the film by Peet

Gelderblom, re-ordered as originally planned”.

 

raisingcain9

 

One of my minds agrees with Gelderblom that this is a

(slightly) more satisfying edit of a film I reviewed in the

Chicago Reader as follows: “Brian De Palma’s 1992 thriller

perform stylistic pirouettes around a void, it’s full of sleek

and pleasurable moments. If I’m right about the story,

which is mainly composed out of loose pieces of Psycho

and Peeping Tom, a warped child psychologist (John

Lithgow) kidnaps his own granddaughter to avenge the

adultery of his son’s wife (Lolita Davidovich), and

frames her lover (Steven Bauer) for the crime. But

maybe I’ve got it all wrong and it’s the son’s evil twin

who’s doing the kidnapping; Lithgow also plays this

character, along with the son and other personalities

too numerous and obscure to fathom. Produced by

De Palma’s wife Gale Anne Hurd (The Abyss); with

Frances Sternhagen, Gregg Henry, Tom Bower, and

Mel Harris.… Read more »

Eastern Promise (updated)

From Movies of the Fifties, edited by Ann Lloyd (London: Orbis Publishing, 1982). Prior to this, it was published in one of the “chapters” of The Movie in 1981 or 1982, but I’m no longer clear about which one. — J.R.

For two centuries, Japan chose to isolate itself from the rest of the world. Then, in 1894, the American Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay and ‘rediscovered’ the Japanese islands. Yet nothing was known about Japanese cinema in the West for almost another century. The difference was that whereas Perry had come upon a country that appeared technologically backward, the west encountered a cinema that was, on the evidence of the films that began to be shown in the Fifties, every bit as advanced as its own.

By and large western recognition and appreciation of Japanese films can be said to have dated from the appearance of key movies at the Venice and Cannes Film Festivals.Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) won the Golden Lion at Venice in 1951 and the same honor was bestowed upon four films by Kenji Mizoguchi in the succeeding years. The films were: Saikaku Ichidai Onna (1952, The Life of Oharu),Ugetsu Monogatari (1953, Tales of the Pale and Silvery Moon After the Rain), Sansho Dayu (1954, Sansho the Bailiff ) and Yokihi (1955, The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei).… Read more »

Helen Keller and Untold Histories (Hers and Ours): A Conversation with John Gianvito

From Cineaste, Winter 2020. — J.R.

It’s been almost two decades since I first discovered the fiercely independent, passionately committed, and poetically inflected cinema of John Gianvito via his 168-minute The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001). Later that year, I headed a jury at the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Film that gave it our jury prize, but it’s mainly had an uphill struggle ever since being seen and recognized, most likely due to both its subject matter and its running time. John points out that I may have previously seen his 1983 feature The Flower of Pain, but if I did, I no longer remember it; ditto his portion of a 1986 episodic feature that he originated, Address Unknown.

The Mad Songs remains my favorite film of his, yet even though it was available for a spell on DVD, it currently lacks a distributor. A powerful act of witness about some of the tragic stateside consequences of the first Gulf War, it was made over a seven-year period, including two years of shooting in New Mexico — despite the fact that Gianvito is a Bostonian, where he currently teaches film at Emerson College and was formerly a curator for five years at the Harvard Film Archive.

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Restored to Power [NIGHTS OF CABIRIA]

This appeared in the August 21, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.

Nights of Cabiria

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed by Federico Fellini

Written by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Pier Paolo Pasolini

With Giulietta Masina, Franca Marzi, Francois Perier, Amedeo Nazzari, Dorian Gray, and Aldo Silvana.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Reporting on the response to Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria at Cannes in 1957, François Truffaut wrote, “Let us deplore the fad that seems to be shared equally by the audience, producers, distributors, technicians, actors, and critics who fancy that they can contribute to the ‘creation’ of the films being shown by deciding how they should have been edited and cut. After each showing, I’d hear things like ‘Not bad, but they could have cut a half-hour,’ or ‘I could have saved that film with a pair of scissors.'” As festival responses to more recent masterpieces like Taste of Cherry and The Apostle have shown, this fad is still very much with us. Another, more recent fad is to release longer versions of films that were butchered on their release. Too often these so-called director’s cuts — such as Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and the forthcoming Touch of Evil — can’t qualify as restorations, however, because the directors were never accorded final cut in the first place.… Read more »

NASHVILLE

Slightly tweaked from its original appearance in the Autumn 1975 issue of Sight and Sound. — J.R.

Nashville

‘A dialectic collage of unreality,’ remarked pop singer Brenda Lee, emerging from the Nashville premiere in August. After a summer full of humourless rhetoric in the American press about ‘the true lesson of ‘Watergate’, ‘the failure of our civilization,’ ‘the long nauseating terror of a fall through the existential void,’ and equally grave matters — most of it implying that a movie has to be about ‘everything’ (i.e., the State of the Union) before it can be about anything — it was refreshing to discover that someone, at long last, had finally got it right. Even if Lee’s comment was intended as a slam, it deserves to be resurrected as a tribute. For if Nashville is conceivably the most exciting commercial American movie in years, this is first of all because of what it constructs, not what it exposes.

From the moment we begin with an ad for the film itself — a blaring overload of multi-media confusion — and pass to a political campaign van spouting banalities, then to a recording studio where country music star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) is cutting a hilariously glib Bicentennial anthem, Nashville registers as a double-fisted satire of its chosen terrain, and it would be wrong to suggest that its targets of derision are beside the point, even if the angle of vision subsequently widens to take in more than just foolishness.Read more »

Welles in the Lime Light

From the July 30, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. This is also reprinted in my book Discovering Orson Welles. In retrospect, I clearly should have given this movie four stars. — J.R.

The Third Man

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Carol Reed

Written by Graham Greene

With Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Ernst Deutsch, Siegfried Breuer, and Erich Ponto.

Ironically, the most successful and beloved movie Orson Welles was ever associated with — and the one that may have had the most significant effect on the remainder of his career — has not been one of his own. Admittedly, Citizen Kane has more prestige, but that’s a relatively recent development; for the first quarter of a century after it was made, it was criticized as “uncinematic” in the few standard works of film history available, such as The Liveliest Art and The Film Till Now. Instead it was The Third Man (1950) that was most often cited with pleasure when Welles’s name came up. “Didn’t he direct that?” was something I used to hear a lot. Today I hear “Didn’t he direct at least some of the scenes?”… Read more »

Eyes and Ears Have It (Slate post, late 2005)

Eyes and Ears Have It

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Dec 28, 2005 5:14 PM

Hi, Gang:

Here’s my promised list: 25 films in 20 entries, allowing for five ties. I’ve made it somewhat different from my Village Voice ballot and my forthcoming Chicago Reader list by changing some of the ground rules: The only criterion for inclusion is a public screening somewhere in the United States, and the order is strictly alphabetical rather than hierarchical. I’ve appended comments to each entry, including some remarks about performances (good idea, Tony) and some responses to other comments. Tony’s point that more films are becoming easier to see, at least on DVD, is well taken; this means that most (if not all) of my choices will be obtainable that way in the coming year, if they aren’t already.

cafelumiere

 

FearAndTrembling

Café Lumière and Fear and Trembling. Two first-rate alternatives to the dubious Lost in Translation, both showing how one can view Japan from a foreign viewpoint with some nuance and a bit more sensitivity than simple class blindness. Politesse isn’t the issue. Though I’ve yet to find a Japanese person who can bear Sofia Coppola’s film, I don’t know if Alain Corneau’s even more unflattering Stupeur et tremblement — about the suffering of a Belgian woman (Sylvie Testud) working for a corporation in Tokyo and trying to conform to the local protocol — has even shown in Japan.… Read more »

Quick Change Artists

From the Chicago Reader (July 19, 1996). — J.R.

Specialeffectsimaxfilm

 

Special Effects

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Ben Burtt

Written by Susanne Simpson, Burtt, and Tom Friedman

Narrated by John Lithgow.

Multiplicity

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Harold Ramis

Written by Ramis, Chris Miller, Mary Hale, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel

With Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell, and Harris Yulin.

The Frighteners

Rating — Worthless

Directed by Peter Jackson

Written by Fran Walsh and Jackson

With Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace Stone, and R. Lee Ermey.

The Nutty Professor

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Tom Shadyac

Written by David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Shadyac, and Steve Oedekerk

With Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett, James Coburn, Larry Miller, Dave Chappelle, and John Ales.

Looking around at the big summer movies, I see reason to assume that the state of the art of film art now equals the state of the art of special effects. The belief in capitalist growth as spiritual progress that permeates this culture seems to have been given particular currency: as film technology becomes more and more sophisticated, the art of film can only rise accordingly.

But does the development of morphing automatically make the Eddie Murphy Nutty Professor more artistic than the Jerry Lewis Nutty Professor (1963)?… Read more »