Daily Archives: November 9, 2021

Media’s and Scholarship’s Historical Abridgments

The Birth of a Nation (1915)Directed by D.W. GriffithShown: Walter Long (as Gus) surrounded by Ku Klux Klan members

In his review of Edward Ball’s Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy in the November 18 issue of The New York Review of Books, Colin Grant writes that “The vexed [viewers of The Birth of a Nation] included President Woodrow Wilson who, after a private screening in the White House, is alleged to have said, ‘It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.'”

For most of my life, I’ve been repeatedly encountering the first phrase in Wilson’s alleged statement, usually in supposedly reputable sources, but never until now have I read the second phrase in the sentence, which changes the meaning of the first. The first phrase, as a standalone statement, functions like an advertisement for the film; the second, for all its ambiguity, adds regret and consternation to the sentiment. Assuming that Wilson actually said this, what he meant precisely by “terribly true” may continue to elude us, but it suggests to me something other than an simple endorsement of the film. When Griffith’s film continued to be shown at Klan rallies in my home state of Alabama during my childhood (ironically, one of the rare occasions when a silent film was still being shown there for any reason), I would imagine that the first part of Wilson’s sentence could have been used to promote the event, but the second part, which might have shed certain doubts about the Klan’s triumphant lynching in the film,, would have most likely been left out. Read more

My 25 Favorite Films of the 21st Century (so far, four years ago)

Not so long ago, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis decided to name their 25 favorite films of this millennium so far. More recently, J. Hoberman decided to play the same game.

I’ve decided to play as well. My only rule in this game, not followed by Hoberman, was to restrict my favorite filmmakers on the list to only one film each –- not always easy, and sometimes downright agonizing. (How, for instance, could I have left out Costa’s Where Lies Your Hidden Smile?, Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, Jia’s Platform and Still Life, Linklater’s Waking Life?)

I haven’t provided links here to my writing about these films, but using this site’s search engine should turn up texts about practically all of them. (The only exception that comes to mind is The Clock.)


The order below is alphabetical.


A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg/Kubrick)

Bernie (Linklater)

Certified Copy (Kiarostami)

The Circle (Panahi)

The Clock (Marclay)

*Corpus Callosum (Snow)

The Day I Became a Woman (Meshkini)

Down There (Akerman)

Down with Love (Reed)

Farewell to Language (Godard)

Horse Money (Costa)

Howl’s Moving Castle (Miyazaki)

Inland Empire (Lynch)

Los Angeles Plays Itself (Andersen)

The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (Gianvito)

Operai, Contadini (Straub-Huillet)

Paterson (Jarmusch)

Pistol Opera (Suzuki)

RR (Benning)

The Silence Before Bach (Portabella)

Son of Saul (Nemes)

The Trap (Curtis)

The Turin Horse (Tarr)

The World (Jia)

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Resnais) [6/21/17] Read more

Hooey for Hollywood [on THE PLAYER]

This ran in the May 1, 1992 issue of Chicago Reader. Criterion brought out a new Blu-Ray edition of this film yesterday, with many extras, so I’ve just looked at it again, and enjoyed it somewhat better this time, particularly for its pacing. My piece strikes me now as unduly peevish in spots, in part because I was reviewing the hype as much as the movie (I especially regret my swipe at Terrence Rafferty), although I still agree with much of it — and am pleased that Sam Wasson’s essay for the Criterion release agrees with one of my major arguments when he writes, “Far from making the trenchant, bitter satire so many critics would describe even after they saw the movie, Altman bypassed The Day of the Locust for Our Town and actually made a charmed, even gleeful movie about his so-called nemesis. That’s why so many people in Hollywood love The Player.” — J.R.


* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Robert Altman

Written by Michael Tolkin

With Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Brion James, Cynthia Stevenson, and Dean Stockwell.

Movies-about-moviemaking tend to come in two flavors: the celebratory (Day for Night, Singin’ in the Rain) and the sardonic (Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and the Beautiful, Barton Fink). Read more