Daily Archives: November 19, 2021

Time-Tasting Places in 3 Current Releases [THE POWER OF THE DOG, PASSING, NO TIME TO DIE]

There’s an uncommon number of period films

among the end-of-the-year releases and screeners,

a clear indication that we don’t want to spend more

time than we have to in the present moment. Who

could want to? But the problem with most period

films in this country that are insufficiently inflected

with the usual genre reflexes (the beloved ahistorical

escape hatches of noirs, Westerns, and even musicals)

is that most of us know too little about the past

to make it believable enough to feel inhabitable.

A good case in point is Jane Campion’s sluggish The

Power of the Dog, which tries to critique the Western

genre’s gender stereotypes but winds up stranded in the

present almost by default, in its dialogue as well as its

overall ambience. One simply can’t imagine the

offscreen space of a Montana in the 1920s (e.g., the

nearest town) because the imaginative investments are

too meagre, relating more to the visible landscapes than

to the societies and cultures that the characters

supposedly inhabit.

A far more persuasive view of the U.S. in the 1920s is

found in Rebecca Hall’s densely packed and even

claustrophobic Passing, which is visually and

psychologically far more invested in interiors than in

exteriors, and where the novel being adapted is

contemporaneous with the action being shown. Read more

A Moon For All Seasons [on MOONWALK ONE]

From the Village Voice (December 7, 1972). – J.R.

 In case you’re wondering why MOONWALK ONE,

 a film produced for NASA by Francis Thompson, Inc., 

 is currently showing at the Whitney Museum — rather

 than, say, on CBS or Channel 13, or at the Little Carnegie

 or Radio City Music Hall — I can offer a clue, if not a

 definitive explanation. Feeling as intimidated as the next

 layman about my ignorance concerning the moon shot, I

 thought of boning up on the subject before writing this

 review, and checked the neighborhood bookstores to see

 what was available. Apart from [Norman] Mailer’s book

 [Of a Fire on the Moon],what do you think I found in the

 three fairly well-stockedshops that I visited? Absolutely nothing.

 No scientific accounts, no popular treatments, no picture books,

 no personal reflections. The moon landing may have been,

 according to Nixon, the most important event in the history of

 mankind since the birth of Christ, but apparently a lot of people

 would rather read about the making of STAR TREK. (On the

 other hand, if Christ had been born three years ago, I doubt that

 many people would want to read about that, either.)

 If people are somewhat tired of the moonwalk, this is probably

 because, as with the Kennedy assassination and Nixon’s trip to

 China, they’ve already seen it. Read more

SMILE (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 501, October 1975. — J.R.


U.S.A., 1974Director: Michael Ritchie


Thirty-three high school girls arrive in Santa Rosa, California, to compete in the annual Young American Miss Pageant. While the girls rehearse their individual and collective performances and are interviewed by a panel of judges — including former pageant winner Brenda DiCarlo [Barbara Feldon] and car dealer “Big Bob” Freelander [Bruce Dern], who codirect the event – Brenda’s husband Andy [Nicholas Pryor], a heavy drinker who runs a trophy shop, derides the silliness of the pageant and Freelander’s son, “Little Bob” [Eric Shea], takes orders from his friends for Polaroid nude snapshots of the girls. Professional choreographer Tommy French [Michael Kidd] arrives to train the girls in dance routines, “Little Bob” his caught with his Polaroid while the girls are undressing, a nude snapshot is confiscated by the police, and he is taken to see a psychiatrist by his father. Andy complains to “big Bob” about his sexual problems with Brenda, and is reluctantly persuaded to attend the Exhausted Rooster Ceremony (for local men who reach the age of 35) that night, the second evening of the pageant. Read more


From the Chicago Reader (September 28, 1990). This is the first time I wrote at length about what is still my favorite Eastwood film; the second time was many years later, and that piece can be found here. — J.R.


**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Written by Peter Viertel, James Bridges, and Burt Kennedy

With Clint Eastwood, Jeff Fahey, George Dzundza, Alun Armstrong, Marisa Berenson, Timothy Spall, and Mel Martin.

I can’t say that I’ve been one of Clint Eastwood’s partisans. He was amusing as the Man With No Name — the mean, laconic hombre whose supercoolness suggested a hip Gary Cooper — in Sergio Leone’s mid-60s western trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), and fun in Coogan’s Bluff and Two Mules for Sister Sara shortly afterward. But for me the joke of this ornery, poker-faced, string-bean dude was already running thin as early as Dirty Harry (1971), a right-wing remake of High Noon that amplified Eastwood’s relation to Cooper and marked the point at which he was moving commercially into high gear. (To my mind, the gothic excesses and male hysteria of The Beguiled, made the same year — a Civil War tale in which Eastwood was seduced and unmanned by a bevy of females in a girls’ school — were much more interesting.) Read more

Deep in the Tarr Pit [THE TURIN HORSE]

From Film Comment (September-October 2011). — J.R.

Recalling the incident in Turin that reportedly occasioned Friedrich Nietzsche’s final breakdown into madness — his weeping and embracing a cab horse that was being beaten by its driver for refusing to budge — Béla Tarr’s regular screenwriter, novelist László Krasznahorkai, has noted that no one seems to know or ask what happened to the horse. But The Turin Horse is only nominally concerned with this riddle. It’s more concerned with the horse’s driver and his grown daughter, who live in a remote stone hut without electricity, subsisting on an exclusive diet of potatoes and palinka (Hungarian fruit brandy) while a perpetual storm rages outside, then arbitrarily subsides, over a carefully delineated six days. Their abject life remains fixed by a few infernal routines, such as dressing, undressing, drawing water from a well, or looking out the window. (One exterior shot of the daughter doing just that towards the end of the film will haunt me the rest of my life). What passes for plot gradually becomes even more minimal by the driver’s horse first refusing to pull the wagon, then refusing to eat. Read more