From the Chicago Reader (October 12, 1990). — J.R.
The 26th Chicago International Film Festival includes, at the latest count, 110 features and ten additional programs, spaced out over 15 days in two locations –a somewhat more modest menu than last year’s. Apart from this streamlining, it would be a pleasure to report some major improvements in the overall selection, but I’m afraid wanting isn’t having, and from the looks of things, this year’s lineup is not very inspiring.
About six weeks ago, when the festival issued a list of about 100 “confirmed and invited” films, I was hopeful. Based on what I’d already seen or heard about, the list was, barring some omissions, a fair summary of what was going on in world cinema, which is more than one could say for previous Chicago festival lineups. I pointed this out to a colleague, who replied, “Yeah, but let’s see how many of these actually turn up,” and I’m sorry to say his skepticism was warranted. Gradually, irrevocably, over half of the hottest titles were dropped from the list, including Kira Muratova’s remarkable The Asthenic Syndrome, Jean-Luc Godard’s La nouvelle vague, Nanni Moretti’s Palombella Rosa, Pavel Lounguine’s Taxi Blues, Charles Burnett’s soon-to-open To Sleep With Anger, Aki Kaurismaki’s The Match Factory Girl, Bertrand Tavernier’s Daddy Nostalgy, Otar Iosseliani’s Et la lumiere fut, and Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband. Read more
Written for the July-August 2017 Film Comment. This is the unedited version of my review. — J.R.
Two Cheers for Hollywood: Joseph McBride on Movies
By Joseph McBride, Hightower Press, $38.50.
Anyone who’s read his astute critical biographies of Capra, Ford, Spielberg, and Welles knows that Joseph McBride is one of our most invaluable film historians. No less ambitious but more personal are his three most recent books, all brought out expertly under his own imprint and available from Amazon: his hefty Into the Nightmare: My Search for the Killers of President John F. Kennedy and Officer J. D. Tippit (2013), his very moving and painfully candid The Broken Places: A Memoir (2015), and now an even heftier volume collecting half a century’s worth of his film journalism and criticism, encompassing 56 separate items and almost 700 large-format pages. It’s the sort of old-fashioned bedside compendium and browser’s paradise that we seldom get nowadays from academic publishers—with a few rare exceptions, such as Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors’ delightful 2009 New Literary History of America (which included one of the better McBride essays reprinted here, “The Screenplay as Genre,” about Citizen Kane). McBride prefaces each piece with a contextualizing introduction, and part of what makes this volume fun is the informal history it offers of McBride’s own taste and career. Read more
Written for MUBI Notebook in April 2020. — J.R.
It’s disconcerting that the collected writings in English of one of the world’s greatest filmmakers currently sells for $852 on Amazon — or a whopping $980, if you opt for the paperback — while the only American book about him downgrades his work’s artistic value in its very title (Vance Kepley’s 1985 In the Service of the State: The Cinema of Alexander Dovzhenko). Look him up on Wikipedia, and you find that his name is shared by a poker player and a psychiatrist — hardly fit company for the epic, poetic Alexander Dovzhenko (1894-1956), a pagan mystic whose masterful films look as wildly experimental, as dreamlike, as hysterically funny, as fiercely tragic, and as beautiful today as they did a century ago.
A Cold War casualty, often defined in the West as a Russian Communist and in Russia as a turncoat, this Ukrainian nationalist lived under KGB surveillance for most of his life — which may help to explain why his devoted second wife Julia Solntseva, who filmed many of his unrealized scripts after his death, had joined the KGB herself, possibly in order to protect her husband. And as one of his better Western explicators, Ray Uzwyshyn, has pointed out, “With regard to the non-Russian republics (i.e. Read more