Travis Wilkerson with his great-grandfather
I gather that Travis Wilkerson’s amazing personal essay film about the murder of a black man by his great-grandfather in Dothan, Alabama in 1946 will be at New York’s Film Forum through March 13. I’m grateful to A.O. Scott for his enthusiastic review, which, by alerting me to this film’s existence, made me forgive Scott for what appeared to be his blindness to the subtler forms of racism and class bias practiced by Woody Allen in the reviewer’s latest “troubled” Times ruminations about that profoundly overrated figure. Even if I’m not the only one who views Manhattan as a hipper version of Trump’s “Make America great [i.e., white] again” — it was the late Allan Sekula who first pointed out to me how the absence of people of color on the streets of New York was part of what made it all seem so dreamy and romantic — the habit of avoiding racism when it appears in your own backyard is hardly unique to Scott. It’s even part of what makes New Yorkers and Alabamans seem similar to me, after living for many years in both places. (I grew up in Florence, to the northwest of Dothan — the other side of the state, and closer to the part of Tennessee where Wild River was filmed and is set.) Read more
From Cinema Scope issue 39, Summer 2014. — J.R.
I shelled out $56.19 in US dollars (including postage) to acquire the definitive and restored, director-approved DVD of Providence (1977) from French Amazon, and I hasten to add that this was money well spent. Notwithstanding the passion and brilliance of Alain Resnais’ first two features, Providence is in many ways my favourite of his longer works, quite apart from the fact that it’s the only one in English. And I can’t ascribe this preference simply to the contribution of David Mercer (1928-1980). I recently resaw the only other Mercer-scripted film I’m familiar with, Karel Reisz’s Morgan!, and aside from the wit of its own sarcastic dialogue I mainly found it just as flat and tiresome as I did in 1966, for reasons that are well expounded in Dwight Macdonald’s contemporary review (reprinted in his collection On Movies).
I haven’t yet been able to see The Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter), Resnais’ swan song, but clearly part of what gives Providence even more resonance now, writing less than a month after Resnais’ death, is the theme it shares with his penultimate feature, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (2013): an old writer facing his own death, and trying to create some form of art in relation to it. Read more
Written for the Fipresci web site on September 18 2017. — J.R.
Adapting a novella of the same title by Javier Cercas (available in English in the 2006 volume The Tenant and the Motive, translated by Anne McLean for Bloomsbury Publishing), writer-director Manuel Martín Cuenca’s black comedy about the lures and potential perils of yarn-spinning focuses on a hapless and naïve bureaucrat in Seville named Álvaro (Javier Gutiérrez) working as a notary clerk and longing to be a serious and successful novelist, unlike his author wife Amanda (Maria Léon), who writes best-selling but unserious novels (at least according to her husband).
Curiously, the Spanish title of both the novella and the film, El Autor, means “the author,” not “the motive” (the English title of both). But it must be conceded that Álvaro is a highly, even willfully and monomaniacally motivated author as well as a rather stupid sociopath. Taking a writing course from a testy and critical teacher named Juan (Antonio de la Torre), who berates his clichéd prose, he leaves his wife after he discovers via their pet dog that she’s having an affair and, after his boss, noticing his distractedness, urges him to take an extended vacation, moves into a flat of his own to concentrate full-time on writing his first novel. Read more