My 1973 Cannes coverage for London’s Time Out (which ran in their June 8-14 issue, about a year before I moved to London from Paris), slightly tweaked. I’m pretty sure I submitted something longer and more detailed (judging from my penultimate sentence, my account of Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow must have been one of the several things that was cut), but I no longer have the original version to verify this. — J.R.
May 11: Discounting Godspell, the opening film, which I avoided seeing yesterday both for its sake and for mine, the festival got off to a rousing start today with two strong and absorbing films.
Joseph Losey’s A Doll’s House -– shown in the official festival, out of competition — cannot however be considered a successful embodiment of the Ibsen play. The authorial agendas of Ibsen, Losey, and [Jane] Fonda ultimately diverge more than combine, and we arrive at an abrupt impasse – a torso of the play that’s still missing a head.
‘To waken the sleeping beauty,’ says a carnival barker in James B. Read more
From the January 15, 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
The Thin Red Line
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Terrence Malick
With Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, Arie Verveen, Dash Mihok, John Savage, John Travolta, and George Clooney.
Last week the National Society of Film Critics voted Out of Sight the year’s best picture, also awarding it best screenplay and best direction. If this baffles or bemuses you, you should know that the awards in each category are chosen by multiple ballots listing three titles in order of preference. What now seems like a collective preference for a sexy thriller over more ambitious pictures was in effect a tie-breaker between two irreconcilable positions.
As a participant in the meeting I saw partisans of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan square off against partisans of The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick’s first film since Days of Heaven (1978). Practically no one voted for both — only Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune comes to mind — so Steven Soderbergh lurched forward as a second choice, finally copping 28 votes while Spielberg and Malick tied for second place with 25 votes apiece. Read more
From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 492). -– J.R.
Director: Harry Hurwitz
Chuck, a stocky film projectionist who works in midtown Manhattan, hears on a radio about an old man mugged on the Lower East Side, and imagines himself coming to the rescue as Captain Flash. The reverie is broken off by the arrival of his friend Harry, an usher, who hears him describe meeting a pretty girl on the way to work (provoking a romantic-movie pastiche); this is interrupted in turn by Renaldi, the tyrannical theatre manager, who orders Harry out of the booth. Chuck next fantasizes a preview,’The Terrible World of Tomorrow”, before getting off work. As Captain Flash, he loses a fight with the thugs, and the old man informs him that The Bat is after his death ray; they proceed to The Bat’s hideout, where Flash sees the same pretty girl he had described to Harry. In the cinema lobby, Chuck chats with the Czech candy man, who is eventually reprimanded by Renaldi for giving Chuck free lemon drops from the counter. Chuck imagines another preview (“The Wonderful World of Tomorrow”) and a Flash episode in which he visits ‘Rick’s Bar’ in Casablanca and tangles with a prehistoric beast in The Bat’s cave. Passing a movie premiere, he imagines arriving there as a celebrity. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (December 13, 1996). — J.R.
Mars Attacks! ***
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Jonathan Gems
With Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, and Sylvia Sidney.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
As light entertainment, Mars Attacks! gave me more pleasure than most other recent movies I’ve seen, including Daylight, The English Patient, Independence Day, Jingle All the Way, 101 Dalmatians, Space Jam, Trees Lounge, and 2 Days in the Valley. Maybe this is because it achieves the level of nonseriousness so many of its competitors aim for, a level the mass media have been touting as the ideal for big-time movies. If that ideal is to keep you enthralled for a couple of hours and leave a minimum of aftertaste, then Tim Burton’s SF comedy pretty much fills the bill. It also made me laugh.
Part of what kept me so absorbed — apart from the neatly designed effects and a few of the actorly turns, including Jack Nicholson’s — is the sense the film conveys of postmodernist free fall through the iconography of 50s and 60s science fiction in relation to the present: a singular sense of giddy displacement that clearly locates the movie in the 90s, but a 90s largely made up of images and cliches from previous decades that are subtly turned against themselves, made into a form of camp, affectionately mocked, yet still revered as if they had a particular purchase on the truth. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (November 13, 1998). It seems like there are some cinephiles around who still regard Dogme 95 as an honest-to-Pete aesthetic position and not as a lucrative business, ignoring that as far back as 2000, official Dogme Certificates were being sold in Denmark for roughly $1,000 apiece — apparently as a adjunct to von Trier’s main form of income, his ongoing porn-film business (which has also been widely ignored). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Written by Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov
With Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen, Birthe Neuman, Trine Dyrholm, and Helle Dolleris.
In 1961 we wrote this manifesto of the New American Cinema. Eugene Archer was working for the New York Times then, and I showed it to him and asked him if they could print it. He said, ‘No, we couldn’t — maybe the Village Voice could run it.’ Then I understood, of course, that the only kind of manifesto that the New York Times would print would be a press release, not a manifesto at all. In the same way, for an idea to get into the Village Voice today, it has to become not an idea but something else. Read more
From Oui (August 1974). — J.R.
Violins at the Ball. It appears that the two obsessive themes of French cinema right now are movies about movies and movies about the German Occupation. Michel Drach’s Violins at the Ball combines both of these, but on a very personal level, for the story he has to tell is Drach’s own. It is told in two tenses: a present in black and white showing Drach as he tries to interest a producer in his film and he travels around Paris and Oise with his cameraman; a past in color that he is filming, which describes his adventures as a Jewish child during the Occupation.Drach’s wife, actress Marie-José Nat, plays herself in the present and his mother in the past, while their son David portrays Michel at the age of eight. To complicate matters further, the producer declares that the film can’t be made without a star, and Drach immediately replaces himself with Jean-Louis Tringtignant – who also happens to be his best friend. Drach has wanted to make this film for 15 years, and it shows in the careful attention given to various details, the subtle transactions between memory and invention, fear and comfort, yesterday and today. Read more
Curiously, the Chicago Reader’s web site dates this capsule review in October 1985, two years before the film was made. I first saw it at the Toronto Film Festival in September 1987, and believe I reviewed it not too long afterwards. — J.R.
Norman Mailer’s best film, adapted from his worst novel, shows a surprising amount of cinematic savvy and style from a writer whose previous film efforts (Wild 90, Beyond the Law, Maidstone) were mainly unvarnished recordings of his own improvised performances. Working for the first time with a mainstream crew and budget and without himself as an actor, he translates his high rhetoric and macho preoccupations (existential tests of bravado, good orgasms, murderous women, metaphysical cops) into an odd, campy, raunchy comedy thriller that remains consistently watchable and unpredictable — as goofy in a way as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Where Russ Meyer featured women with oversize breasts, Mailer features male characters with oversize egos (although the women here also do pretty well in that department), and thanks to the juicy writing, hallucinatory lines such as “Your knife is in my dog” and “I just deep-sixed two heads” bounce off his cartoonish actors like comic-strip bubbles; even his sexism is somewhat objectified in the process. Read more
This defense of what I consider Robert Altman’s most neglected major work appeared in the May 8, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. I’ve deliberately refrained from including any stills from Kansas City — its “parent” film, which I continue to dislike. — J.R.
Jazz ’34: Remembrances of Kansas City Swing
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Robert Altman
With Jesse Davis, David “Fathead” Newman, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Tyrone Clark, Don Byron, Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield, Victor Lewis, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter, Craig Handy, David Murray, Joshua Redman, Curtis Fowles, Clark Gayton, Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, and Kevin Mahogany.
The best Robert Altman feature in more years than I care to remember isn’t playing at a theater anywhere. A shortened version aired on PBS’s “Great Performances” series last year, but the movie only recently came to my attention when a video copy (distributed by Rhapsody Films) arrived in the mail. A fascinating adjunct to Altman’s much more ambitious and much less successful Kansas City (1996), Jazz ’34: Remembrances of Kansas City Swing is one of the best jazz films I’ve ever seen. It’s what its parent film promised but failed to deliver — all the more interesting because it’s neither a documentary nor a narrative but an eccentric hybrid. Read more
From Sight and Sound (Spring 1975); I’ve mainly followed the editorial changes (mostly trims) used in the version that appears in my collection Essential Cinema….My apologies for the format problems with this piece, only some of which I’ve managed to resolve satisfactorily. — J.R.
[. . .] Unless it is claimed that a pianist’s hands move haphazardly up and down the keyboard — and no one would be willing to claim this seriously — it must be admitted that there exists a guiding thought, conscious or subconscious, behind the succession of organized sound patterns . . . Of course, it does happen, and not too infrequently, that an instrumentalist’s fingers ‘recite’ a lesson they have learned; but in such cases there is no reason to talk about creation.
— André Hodeir, Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence
I can never think and play at the same time. It’s emotionally impossible.
— Lennie Tristano, circa 1962
CHARLIE (Elliott Gould): This is the truth. You’re an animal lover, right?/ SUSAN (Gwen Welles): Yeah./CHARLIE: Okay, well: the great blue whale, right? You know about a great blue whale?/ SUSAN (semi-audible): . . . got that wrestling guy, hunh? /CHARLIE: No, it’s a big fish, a big fish, there’s only two or three left in the world. Read more
From Monthly Film Bulletin, August 1975, Vol. 42, No. 499. — J.R.
Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough
U. S.A., 1974Director: Guy Green
Cert--AA. dist–CIC. p.c–Paramount Pictures. In association with
Sujac Productions and Aries Films. exec. p–Irving Mansfield. p–Howard
W. Koch. p. manager–Howard W. Koch Jnr. asst. d–Howard W. Koch
Jnr., Lee Rafner. sc–Julius J. Epstein. Based on the novel Once Is Not
Enough by Jacqueline Susann. ph–John A. Alonzo. Panavision. col—
Movielab. ed–Rita Roland. p. designer--John DeCuir. a.d–David
Marshall. setdec–Ruby Levitt. m–Henry Mancini. songs—“Once Is
Not Enough” by Henry Mancini, Larry Kusik, sung by–The Mancni
Singers; “All the wav” by Sammy Cahn, James van Heusen, sung by
Frank Sinatra. titles–Dan Perri. sd. ed–Robert Cornett. sd. rec–Larry
Jost. sd. re-rec–Doc Wilkinson. l.p–Kirk Douglas (Mike Wayne),
Alexis Smith (Deidre Milford Granger), David Janssen (Tom Colt),
George Hamilton (David Milford), Melina Mercouri (Karla), Gary
Conway (Hugh Robertson), Brenda Vaccaro (Linda Riggs), Deborah
Raffin, (January Wayne), Lillian Randolph (Mabel), Renata Vanni (Maria),
Mark Roberts (Rhinegold), John Roper (Franco), Leonard Sachs (Dr. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (October 29, 1987). — J.R.
I. Good Things About the Chicago Film Festival
1. Quite apart from aesthetic considerations, any film festival that can boast films from 35 countries and encompass 70 years of filmmaking is performing an invaluable cultural service. The xenophobic and antihistorical cast of most pop culture in this country is such that the more the media expand, the narrower our sense of reality generally becomes, and any institution that can allow us glimpses of cultures and eras other than our own is bound to teach us something more than the average TV news broadcast. (The sharp moral distinction that we usually make between news and fiction–designating the first as “serious” and the second as “entertainment”–overlooks the fact that both are usually designed as narrative entertainment, offering consumable, hence disposable, stories with larger-than-life characters.)
2. Out of the 20 films in the festival that I’ve so far managed to see, more than half are eminently worth seeing, and roughly a third qualify as first-rate. If that’s a somewhat lower batting average than either Facets or the Film Center, it’s still a much higher one than what is achieved by the usual run of commercial mainstream releases. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (March 15, 1996). — J.R.
Directed and written byJames Benning
Narrated by Fred Gardner.
Andre Gide’s The Counterfeiters is too tremendous a thing for praises. To say of it “Here is a magnificent novel” is rather like gazing into the Grand Canyon and remarking, “Well, well, well; quite a slice.”
Doubtless you have heard that this book is not pleasant. Neither is the Atlantic Ocean. — Dorothy Parker
One of the main characteristics of experimental films is that they tend to make hash of the terms we use to speak about narrative features, and James Benning’s haunting, beautiful, and awesome Deseret (1995) — his eighth feature-length film — performs this valuable function from the outset. To say that Deseret is “directed” and “written” by Benning requires some bending of the categories. He “directed” it insofar as he conceived the project, filmed the images, recorded the sound, and edited the sound and images; he “wrote” it insofar as he compiled and edited the texts that are read offscreen by Fred Gardner, though he didn’t write them. In a Hollywood film the directorial tasks described above would be carried out by a producer, cinematographer, sound recordist, editor, and sound editor; it’s anybody’s guess what the compiler and editor of the text would be called (researcher? Read more
From the July 11, 2000 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
What’s so disturbing yet provocative about this documentary by Allen and Albert Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) is that it essentially celebrates as well as interrogates its chosen subject. More precisely, it allows the pimps in interviews to celebrate themselves, offering them the equivalent of their own music videos in which to strut their stuff. Even if one disapproves of the results — it’s hard not to, given the countless obfuscations and omissions ensured by such an approach — there’s also more understanding of a certain kind than would come from a holier-than-thou polemic. One has to weigh the lift against the mystifications. There isn’t the sort of analysis one would hope to find (the Hugheses even sidestep the issue of whether pimps are as important to prostitution as they once were), but at least one gets a pungent look at what makes being a pimp look attractive to some people in certain circumstances. Check it out for yourself; I’ve felt at least as conflicted about the Hughes brothers’ other movies, but this one arguably accomplishes and says the most. 87 min. (JR)
From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 2005). — J.R.
I Am Cuba, Siberian Mammoth
*** (A must see)
Directed by Vicente Ferraz
The Journey: Portrait of Vera Chytilova
no stars (Worthless)
Directed by Jasmina Blazevic
Golub: Late Works Are the Catastrophes
*** (A must see)
Directed by Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn
I Am Cuba, Siberian Mammoth is a 2004 Brazilian documentary about the making of the legendary 1964 Russian-Cuban production I Am Cuba, a preposterous, beautiful, mannerist epic of Marxist agitprop celebrating the Cuban revolution. Early on the documentary — which, like the other two films reviewed here, is showing this week at the Chicago International Documentary Festival — focuses on one of the key sequences in the original film. The coffin of a radical student slain by Batista’s police during a mass uprising is carried by his comrades through downtown Havana, surrounded by a crowd that swells to Cecil B. De Mille proportions. In a delirious, breathtaking two-and-a-half-minute shot, the camera moves ahead of a young woman and past a young man — catching him in close-up as he turns around, hoists the front of the coffin onto his right shoulder, and walks away with the other pallbearers — then cranes up the five floors of a building, past people watching from balconies and parapets. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (May 11, 2000). — J.R.
The Gleaners and I
Rating *** A must see
Directed and narrated by Agnes Varda.
Documentaries are a discipline that teaches modesty. — Agnes Varda, quoted in the press notes for The Gleaners and I
There’s a suggestive discrepancy between the French and English titles of this wonderful essay film completed by Agnes Varda last year. It’s a distinction that tells us something about the French sense of community and the Anglo-American sense of individuality — concepts that are virtually built into the two languages. Les glaneurs et la glaneuse can be roughly translated as “the gleaners and the female gleaner,” with the plural noun masculine only in the sense that all French nouns are either masculine or feminine. The Gleaners and I sets up an implicit opposition between “people who glean” and the filmmaker, whereas Les glaneurs et la glaneuse links them, asserting that she’s one of them.
Gleaners gather up the leftovers of edible crops — grain, fruit, vegetables — after the harvesters are finished with their work. Varda la glaneuse films what other filmmakers have left behind after their harvesting. The link between the two activities is made graphic at one point when Varda gleans a potato with one hand while filming it with the other. Read more