Daily Archives: September 21, 2021

True Crime

From the Chicago Reader, 1999. — J.R.

An adulterous, womanizing investigative journalist (director Clint Eastwood), on the wagon and somewhat over the hill, inherits an assignment to interview a man convicted of murder (Isaiah Washington) hours before he’s slated to be executed at San Quentin, and he becomes convinced that the man is innocent. Eastwood as a director generally alternates more adventurous projects (Bird, White Hunter, Black Heart) with bread-and-butter fare like the Dirty Harry movies, and this hokey thriller, reeking with 30s prison-movie stereotypes and High Noon countdowns, may be the price we have to pay for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The storytelling is as crafty and streamlined as ever, but the story itself, adapted from a novel by Andrew Klavan, is so shopworn that not even three better-than-average screenwriters (Larry Gross, Paul Brickman, Stephen Schiff) can overcome the cynical and absurd contrivances. Eastwood himself, pushing 70 but cruising women in their early 20s, counts on more goodwill than I can muster. I wasn’t bored, but my suspension of disbelief collapsed well before the end. With Denis Leary, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and James Woods. (JR)

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Working-Class America in American Cinema of the Depression and New Deal

Written in May 2014 for De Lumière a Kaurismäki: La clase obrera en el cine, coedited by Carlos F. Heredero and Joxean Fernández and published by Colección Nosferatu in 2014. — J.R.

blondecrazy

Writing about the reception of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera in pre-Hitler [1928] Germany, Hannah Arendt noted (in The Origins of Totalitarianism) that “The play presented gangsters as respectable businessmen and respectable businessmen as gangsters.  The irony was somewhat lost when respectable businessmen in the audience considered this a deep insight into the ways of the world and when the mob welcomed it as an artistic sanction of gangsterism. The theme song in the play, “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral  [First comes food, then comes morals],” was greeted with frantic applause by exactly everybody, though for different reasons. The mob applauded because it took the statement literally; the bourgeoisie applauded because it had been fooled by its own hypocrisy for so long that it had grown tired of the tension and found deep wisdom in the expression of the banality by which it lived; the elite applauded because the unveiling of hypocrisy was such superior and wonderful fun. The effect of the work was exactly the opposite of what Brecht had sought by it.”… Read more »

Brightness (Yeleen)

From the Chicago Reader (January 4, 2002). — J.R.

Souleymane Cissé’s extraordinarily beautiful and mesmerizing fantasy is set in the ancient Bambara culture of Mali (formerly French Sudan) long before it was invaded by Morocco in the 16th century. A young man (Issiaka Kane) sets out to discover the mysteries of nature (or komo, the science of the gods) with the help of his mother and uncle, but his jealous and spiteful father contrives to prevent him from deciphering the elements of the Bambara sacred rites and tries to kill him. Apart from creating a dense and exciting universe that should make George Lucas green with envy, Cissé has shot breathtaking images in Fujicolor and has accompanied his story with a spare, hypnotic, percussive score. Conceivably the greatest African film ever made, sublimely mixing the matter-of-fact with the uncanny, this wondrous work won the jury prize at the 1987 Cannes festival, and it provides an ideal introduction to a filmmaker who is, next to Ousmane Sembène, probably Africa’s greatest director. Not to be missed. 105 min. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Friday, January 4, 6:15 and 8:15; Saturday, January 5, 4:15, 6:15, and 8:15; Sunday, January 6, 4:15 and 6:15; and Monday through Thursday, January 7 through 10, 6:15 and 8:15; 312-846-2800.… Read more »

When Will — and How Can — We Finish Orson Welles’s DON QUIXOTE? (expanded version)

This final chapter in my book Discovering Orson Welles is a lecture delivered in Valencia, Spain, on November 17, 2005, at a conference, “Don Quixote  and the Cinema,”  held at San Miguel de los Reyes, a convent built during the seventeenth century, making it roughly contemporary with Cervantes’s novel. The same building was used as a prison during the Franco era and functions today as a municipal library, Biblioteca Valenciana.

Given my virtually nonexistent grasp of spoken Spanish, I regretted that the event wasn’t more international; as far as I know, my paper was the only one requiring the services of a translator. The only other non-Spanish participants in the three-day event were a French man and an Italian woman, both of whom seemed to be fluent in the language.

Thanks to the generosity of the conference’s organizer, Carlos F. Heredero (the cowriter of Orson Welles en el País de Don Quijote, cited in my introduction to chapter 15, and an academic scholar and critic whose specialties include Spanish cinema and Wong Kar-wai), I was able to route my trip to Spain through Madrid before the conference and then briefly through Barcelona afterwards. In Madrid I made arrangements to spend three days at the Filmoteca Española looking at the Quixote material mentioned in chapters 19 and 20, but I was severely disappointed to discover that the ten hours I’d arranged to see mainly consisted of material from the TV series Nella Terra di Don Chisiotte and/or bits and pieces of what might be called the wreckage left by Jesus Franco’s disposal of the other footage, not including anything shot in Mexico.Read more »