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