Or should we say knot enough? Antonio Banderas plays a frustrated painter and crooked art dealer who pretends to be twin brothers while romancing wealthy sisters played by Melanie Griffith and Daryl Hannah. Spanish director Fernando Trueba, who with his brother David Trueba has adapted a Donald E. Westlake novel, easily surpasses his comic work on the overrated and Oscar-winning Belle Epoque; but he fails to take the knots — which might also be called the flabby stretches — out of an overextended farce. I could live with this movie because the cast (which also includes Danny Aiello, Joan Cusack, and Eli Wallach) is so agreeable, but Banderas, for one, has to strain too hard and too long for his laughs, and the relatively lackadaisical pacing forces him to do so. (JR)
This review of Other Voices, Other Rooms appeared in the February 13, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. I’m not positive that the second image I’ve used to represent Sokurov’s Oriental Elegy actually comes from that video and not from another Sokurov work, but it evokes my memory of that video so well that I hope I can be granted poetic license for this. — J.R.
Other Voices, Other Rooms
Directed by David Rocksavage
Written by Sara Flanigan and Rocksavage
With Lothaire Bluteau, Anna Thomson, David Speck, April Turner, and Frank Taylor.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
I cannot tell a lie: my first exposure to two great tragic novels, Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929), was the dreadful Hollywood adaptations released during my teens, both of which had happy endings. As silly as these movies were — Vincent J. Donehue’s Lonelyhearts (1958) and Martin Ritt’s The Sound and the Fury (1959) — they piqued my interest in the original novels, and I discovered, among many other things, the blatant inadequacy of the movie versions.
The same thing could happen to a teenager attending the dreadful film adaptation of Truman Capote’s first published novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) — not a novel of the same caliber as West’s and Faulkner’s, though still a work of real distinction, from his best period — but the odds are slim. Read more
It’s hard at many festivals apart from the biggest ones to determine whether a film is really “new” or not: “new” in relation to where? I was fortunate enough to attend the world premiere of Jia Zhangke’s Still Life in Venice last year and then resee it in Toronto a week or so later. It’s playing in Rotterdam now, and perhaps it will reach Chicago a year from now, or maybe a little sooner. In the busy cafe-bar of the Lantaren/Venster, the oldest of the festival’s three multiscreen multiplexes (where virtually the entire festival was taking place the first year I attended, 1984), between two programs, I buy a Chinese DVD of this film, priced around $10 in Euros from a clerk who assures me that this version has English subtitles, even though they aren’t mentioned on the box — something I may not be able to confirm until I’m back in Chicago next month. But then, just before a Chinese indy film called Weed starts a few minutes later, I find I’m sitting a row away from Chinese film expert and sometime Reader reviewer Shelly Kraicer, who assures me that (1) this version is subtitled, and (2) it can be bought on the streets of Beijing for about $1.10 — or 80 cents if it’s from a pirated source. Read more
I’m posting this from a public, stand-up facility at the Rotterdam film festival, which means I have to keep this brief. I’ve seen only one feature so far that I’ve cared for very much — a documentary called Murchby Edie and David Ichioka, about film editor Walter Murch (whom I once had the pleasure of working with on a re-edited version of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil). The film offers a fascinating glimpse of some of the tricks of Murch’s trade, presented with wit and lucidity. Edie Ichioka is a former assistant of Murch’s, and she and her husband clearly knew the right sort of questions to get him started.
Otherwise, I’ve been mainly seeing things that I don’t last all the way through. (Walking out of films is something of a luxury for me, since for obvious professional reasons I can’t do this when I’m reviewing in Chicago.) The main exceptions have been a couple of interesting experimental shorts, both of which find novel ways of combining animation with live action — called, respectively, Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light and Regarding the Pain of Susan Sontag (Notes on Camp) — and Summer Palace, a sort of dirge about a female college student in Beijing before, during, and after the Tiananmen Square events, by Lou Ye, the director of Suzhou River, which I stayed to the end of mainly because of jetlag and inertia. This
I’m almost two weeks late in hearing about this, but I’m assuming other latecomers will be interested as well in the op-ed piece published by Mia Farrow and her son Ronan in the March 28 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Titled “The Genocide Olympics,” the Farrows’ article attacks Steven Spielberg for his friendliness in agreeing to help stage the Olympics ceremonies in Beijing, thereby implicitly putting some kind of seal of approval on China’s complicity in the Darfur genocide, which the Farrows have recently been observing firsthand. “Is Mr. Spielberg, who in 1994 founded the Shoah Foundation to record the testimony of survivors of the holocaust, aware that China is bankrolling Darfur’s genocide?” they ask. And a bit later: “Does Mr. Spielberg really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games?”
Various web sites have been having a field day with this, on the right [2014: this link, at http://www.libertyfilmfestival.com/libertas, has subsequently been removed] as well as the left. The right, of course, is taking particular pleasure in drawing attention to the hypocrisy of a liberal like Spielberg.
If I’d had my druthers, I would have seen Jacques Rivette’s masterpiece Out 1 for the third time this past weekend, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It’s still one of my all-time favorites, offering far more pleasure, enlightenment, and sheer stimulation over its dozen and a half hours than any dozen routine commercial releases (which would cumulatively last twice as long, and most of which I wouldn’t dream of seeing if my job didn’t require it). Thanks to work, I had to content myself with about three of the eight episodes, #3, #7, and #8. Still, it was gratifying to see this much of it with such an appreciative and good-sized audience (about 140) who laughed in all the right places and seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. (The experience was enhanced by a superb job of “soft subtitling” supervised by Sally Shafto, director of the last Big Muddy Film Festival.)
I realize this is the third post about Rivette in the past couple weeks (see Pat Graham’s Celine & Julie: The Typeface and One Sings, the Other Doesn’t), but he’s the kind of filmmaker who fosters obsessiveness of various kinds.
From Film Comment (September-October 1998). This is a restructured and substantially revised, updated, and otherwise altered version of my “Trailer for Histoire(s)du cinéma,” which appeared originally in French in the Spring 1997 issue of Trafic. Among the more important changes are a suppression of virtually all of my multiple comparisons of Histoire(s)du cinéma with Finnegans Wake in the original (which, paradoxically, seemed more appropriate in a French publication than in an American one), an expansion of much of the interview material, and an extended quotation from Godard’s review of Rob Tregenza’s Talking to Strangers.
My apologies for some format irregularities that I wasn’t able to fix. -– J.R.
GODARD AS CRITIC
JLG (at press conference): I still look at movies the same way today than I did [at the time of the New Wave], but I know it’s not the same world, exactly. Even if we enter the theater the same way, we don’t go out the same way.
From Film Comment (September-October 1998). This is a restructured and substantially revised, updated, and otherwise altered version of my “Trailer for Histoire(s)du cinéma,” which appeared originally in French in the Spring 1997 issue of Trafic. Among the more important changes are a suppression of virtually all of my multiple comparisons of Histoire(s) du cinémawith Finnegans Wake in the original (which, paradoxically, seemed more appropriate in a French publication than in an American one), an expansion of much of the interview material, and an extended quotation from Godard’s review of Rob Tregenza’s Talking to Strangers.
My apologies for some format irregularities that I wasn’t able to fix. -– J.R.
Part of the following derives from two film festival encounters — a panel discussion on Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma held in Locarno in August 1995, and some time spent with Godard in Toronto in September 1996. I participated in the first event after having seen the first four chapters of Godard’s eight-part video series; unlike my co-panelists, I’d been unable to accept Godard’s invitation to view chapters 3a and 3b, devoted to Italian neorealism and the New Wave, in Rolle a few days earlier. Read more
Written for Whose Cinema?, a Critics’ Choice Slow Criticism Project booklet published at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, January 27 — February 7, 2016, and in the February 2016 issue of the online Filmkrant. — J.R.
“Back then [in Hungary in the late 1970s], it was the censorship of the politics, and now we have the censorship of the market. What has changed? The climate is the same. If you are a filmmaker, it is always fucked up.”
–Béla Tarr at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), 2012
“Piracy isn’t a victimless crime,” is what we read at the beginnings of an inordinate number of DVDs and Blu-Rays — to which I’m often tempted to reply that capitalism isn’t always or invariably a victimless crime either, especially when the victim turns out to be the consumer. And the fact that piracy is usually regarded as a crime and capitalism usually isn’t should mark the beginning of any clear-headed discussion of who (or what) cinema should belong to.
If “Whose cinema?” is a question that needs to be answered, we first have to add another question, and an even thornier one — “What cinema (or whose cinema) are we talking about?” Read more
From the Chicago Reader (November 12, 1999). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Catherine Breillat
With Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Rocco Siffredi, and Francois Berleand.
I’ve never put much stock in my powers of prophecy, but it seems I was more off the mark than usual nine months ago when I emerged from the world premiere of Catherine Breillat’s Romance, in Rotterdam, thinking it would create a sensation if it reached the U.S. I somehow forgot that most movie sensations are the fabrications of publicists. Audiences can create sensations — The Blair Witch Project proves that — but reviewers, who are usually closer to publicists than to audiences, are often the last people to notice. So maybe Breillat’s seventh feature did cause a sensation with audiences when it opened in New York several weeks ago, but if so, I don’t think it’s been reported.
Nine months ago I decided that Romance was a pretty reactionary movie for France — mainly because of an offscreen statement made by the heroine near the end (“They say a woman isn’t a woman until she’s a mother; it’s true”). But I still thought it might be seen as progressive in America, especially because its rare confluence of cinematic taste, literary intelligence, and hard-core sex might undercut the crippling puritanism of our movie codes, which usually equate eroticism with porn, sleaze, and stupidity rather than, say, art, health, and intelligence. Read more
[Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz] causes earache the first time through, especially for those new to Coleman’s music. The second time, its cacophony lessens and its complex balances and counter-balances begin to take effect. The third time, layer upon layer of pleasing configurations — rhythmic, melodic, contrapuntal, tonal — becomes visible. The fourth or fifth listening, one swims readily along, about ten feet down, breathing the music like air.
— Whitney Balliett, “Abstract,” in Dinosaurs in the Morning
If there is something comforting — religious, if you want — about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.
— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
In the spring of 1970, Jacques Rivette shot about thirty hours of improvisation with over three dozen actors in 16mm. Out of this massive and extremely open-ended material emerged two films, both of which contrive to subvert the traditional moviegoing experience at its roots. Out 1, lasting twelve hours and forty minutes,structured as an eight-part serial, originally subtitled Noli me tangere, that was designed for but refused by French television, was screened publicly only once (at Le Havre, 9-10 September 1971), still in workprint form. Read more
An article commissioned by La Repubblica‘s weekly magazine D. in Italy for publication on February 1, 2017. A slight variation of this appeared as one of my columns in Caiman Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.
I’ve never been adept at predicting the Oscars, and writing this shortly before the nominees are announced puts me at an even greater disadvantage. But the winners of the Golden Globes awards several weeks before the Academy Awards are a good indication of the overall trends in industry thinking. And the tendency in this year’s Golden Globes winners is a preference for ideological and aesthetic prestige over mainstream appeal: Moonlight for best drama, La La Land for best musical or comedy, Isabelle Huppert in Elle and Emma Stone in La La Landfor best actress, Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Seaand Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Otherwise, La La Land broke the record for prizes by winning seven in all, including also screenplay and direction (Damien Chazelle) and original score (Justin Hurwitz).
What generalizations can one reach about all four of the aforementioned prizewinners? A preference for gloom and doom over optimism that seems quite appropriate following the recent election of the United States’ own Silvio Berlusconi, Donald J. Read more
From “Film Criticism in America Today: A Critical Symposium,” Cineaste 26, no. 1, 2000. This is the first of several symposia gathered in a new collection edited by Cynthia Lucia and Rahul Hamid,Cineaste on Film Criticism, Programming, and Preservation in the New Millennium, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017. –- J.R.
Here are my replies to the following questions from Cineaste:
1. What does being a film critic mean to you? (More specifically, why do you write film criticism? Whom do you hope to reach, and what do you hope to communicate to them?)
2. What qualities make for a memorable film critique? (Do you think such critiques tend to be positive or negative in tone? Is discussing a film’s social or political aspects as important to you as its cinematic qualities and value as art or entertainment?)
3. How would you characterize the relationship between film critics and the film industry? Do you think film critics could be more influential in this relationship? How?
4. What are the greatest obstacles you face in writing the kind of film criticism you wish to write? (For example, does your publication require delivery of your copy on a short deadline after only one screening, limit the space available for your reviews, or dictate which films you should review?Read more
`Commissioned by Re:Voir in France in 2021 for a currently available DVD. — J.R.
Seen as a troubled diptych, Troublemakers(filmed in Newark during the fall of 1965, two years before the riots) and In the Country(1966)offer, respectively, public and private glimpses of the political frustrations faced by young white radicals in the United States during this volatile period. Robert Kramer–producer, writer, and director of the second film–receives no credit on the first, but he’s one of the more vocal radicals appearing in it, expressing some of the same disillusionment with mainstream, workaday politics that the second film is also wrestling with. The son of a Park Avenue heart specialist and a textile designer, Robert attended private schools, Swarthmore College, and Stanford, carrying around his privilege like an albatross, as a guilt-ridden handicap to overcome.
The implicit hope that led members of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) — including the very young Tom Hayden, Kramer, and filmmakers Norman Fruchter (sound) and Robert Machover (camera and editing) — to join and/or recruit the efforts of black activists in their Newark ghetto and the explicit bitterness of a nameless, fictional white radical couple (William Devane and Catherine Merrill) retreating to and brooding within their privileged rural isolation need to be viewed as reverse sides of the same countercultural coin. Read more
Commissioned by the Chicago Reader in late September 2016. — J.R.
The eponymous New Jersey town proves to be a hotbed of poetry and art in this comedy from writer-director Jim Jarmusch, thanks to his beautifully loony conceit that all ordinary Americans are closet poets and artists of one kind or another (even if they don’t always know it). The bus-driver hero (Adam Driver), also named Paterson, writes poetry, and his Iranian wife (actress and rock musician Golshifteh Farahani) goes in for black-and-white domestic design; they know they’re artists and are completely smitten with one another, but their neighbors in a local bar seem less fortunate. Like many of Jarmusch’s best films, this keeps surprising us with its minimal, witty inflections, at once epic and small-scale, inspired in this case by the book-length poem Paterson by William Carlos Williams. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)