Monthly Archives: December 2021

MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY

 Written in 2013 for a 2019 Taschen publication. — J.R.

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday

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1. Tati as traditionalist, Tati as experimenter

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There’s a clear and consistent see-sawing pattern that can be traced over the course of Tati’s half-dozen features: a relatively conventional comedy with a relatively well-defined storyline is followed by something more radical, original, and experimental, and less bound or defined by traditional storytelling.

This isn’t only the way that PlayTime follows Mon Oncle and that Parade follows Trafic. The way that Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot follows Jour de fête is no less striking and significant.  Even after we acknowledge that, as an original artist with an artisan’s sensibility, Tati invariably experimented in all his creative work — and that Jour de fête would have seemed more experimental in 1949 if he had been able to process and release it in color, as he had intended — one can still find a striking difference between his more narrative-bound and his less narrative-bound works.

At the same time, however, there’s a certain thematic continuity that’s followed from one feature to the next even when the style and form undergo important changes. On the most basic level, Tati’s first two films deal with vacation time and the second two deal with architecture.… Read more »

Ten Best Lists, 1980s

A list of lists, the second in a series of six. –J.R.

Chicago Reader, Best Films of the 1980s (chronological):


Out of the Blue (1980, Dennis Hopper)

Sans soleil (1981, Chris Marker)

Blade Runner (1981, Ridley Scott)

Passion (1982, Jean-Luc Godard)

The King of Comedy (1983, Martin Scorsese)

Love Streams (1984, John Cassavetes)

Manuel on the Island of Wonders (1984, Raul Ruiz)

Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann)

The Horse Thief (1985, Tian Zhuangzhuang)

Mix-Up (1985, Francoise Romand)

Mélo (1986, Alain Resnais)

Brightness (1987, Souleymane Cisse)

Housekeeping (1987, Bill Forsyth)

A Story of the Wind (1988, Joris Ivens/Marceline Loridan)

Distant Voices/Still Lives (1988, Terence Davies)

Film Comment, 1981 (alphabetical):
Amor de Perdição (Manoel de Oliveira)
Cutter’s Way (Ivan Passer)
Gal Young ‘Un (Victor Nunez)
Hardly Working (Jerry Lewis)
India Song (Marguerite Duras)
Mommie Dearest (Frank Perry)
Numéro Deux (Jean-Luc Godard)
Reds (Warren Beatty)
Shock Treatment (Jim Sharman)
Taxi Zum Klo (Frank Ripploh)

Chicago Reader, 1987 (ranked):
The Horse Thief (Tian Zhuangzhuang)
Mammame (Raúl Ruiz)
Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick)
Mélo (Alain Resnais)
The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci)
Ishtar (Elaine May)
Landscape Suicide (James Benning)
Tough Guys Don’t Dance (Norman Mailer)
From the Pole to the Equator(Yervant Gianikian/Angela Ricci Lucchi)
Black Widow (Bob Rafelson)

Chicago Reader, 1988 (ranked):
Mix-Up (Françoise Romand)
Yeelen (Brightness) (Souleymane Cissé)
Housekeeping (Bill Forsyth)
Repentance (Tengiz Abuladze)
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis)
King Lear (Jean-Luc Godard)
Talking to Strangers (Rob Tregenza)
Uncommon Senses: Plain Talk & Common Sense (Jon Jost)
Hairspray (John Waters)

Chicago Reader, 1989 (ranked):
Distant Voices/Still Lives (Terence Davies)
A Short Film About Love (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Terry Gilliam)
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee)
High Hopes
(Mike Leigh)
Golub (Jerry Blumenthal/Gordon Quinn)
Rembrandt Laughing (Jon Jost)
sex, lies, and videotape (Steven Soderbergh)
Forevermore: Biography of Leach Lord (Eric Saks)
Say Anything… (Cameron Crowe)

[1/6/10]… Read more »

Girl With a Camera

This appeared in the November 15, 1991 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

VIDEOS BY SADIE BENNING

I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of the caméra-stylo [camera-pen],” Alexandre Astruc wrote prophetically in 1948 in the journal Écran français. “This metaphor has a very precise sense. By it I mean that the cinema will gradually break free from the tyranny of what is visual, from the image for its own sake, from the immediate and concrete demands of the narrative, to become a means of writing just as flexible and as subtle as written language . . .

It must be understood that up to now the cinema has been nothing more than a show. This is due to the basic fact that all films are projected in an auditorium. But with the development of 16-millimeter and television, the day is not far off when everyone will possess a projector, will go to the local bookstore and hire films written on any subject, of any form, from literary criticism and novels to mathematics, history, and general science. From that moment on, it will no longer be possible to speak of the cinema.Read more »

JOUR DE FETE

Written in 2013 for an expensive book on Jacques Tati prepared for Taschen by Alison Castle.  — J.R.

 

Jour de fête

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JDF-cinema

1. A Parisian Discovers the Countryside

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In 1943, Jacques Tati, age 34, was living in occupied France. He had played rugby, become a successful music hall performer, and acted in a few short comic films. That year he left Paris with a screenwriter friend named Henri Marquet in search of the remotest part of the country they could find, hoping to escape recruitment as workers in Germany. They finally settled on a farm near Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre, located in the dead center of France — not far from where George Sand had entertained such house guests as Chopin, Liszt, Flaubert, and Turgenev — and spent a year or so getting acquainted with the village and its inhabitants.

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EDF

Two years after Germany’s surrender, Tati and Marquet returned to the village to make a short film, L’école des facteurs (“The School for Postmen”), in which Tati played François, the village postman, who delivers the mail on a bicycle. François was based loosely on a bit character — a befuddled postman, played by another actor — in Soigne ton gauche (1936), a comic short Tati had written and starred in. … Read more »

American Hunger [on Eric Saks]

From Film Comment, July-August 2001. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to provide many illustrations for this that are tied to the films and videos discussed. Many of the ones I’ve used are drawn from earlier or later works by Saks, including paintings and photographs. — J.R.

It’s tempting to call Eric Saks’ preferred mode, in video and film alike, the pseudo-documentary — though there are times, mainly during my more apocalyptic moods, when I wonder if any other kind of American documentary currently exists. It’s less speculative to say that two of Saks’ main subjects are ecology and waste, but if you extend the meaning of those terms logically, you come up with just about the entirety of the sad American empire, President George W. Bush included.

Place Saks’ work in a drawer marked “weird stuff” or “marginal,” regardless of whether that drawer stays open or closed, and the gesture becomes the same kind of empty, self-fulfilling market judgment that his work laments — like the current functioning of national boundaries, simply a blind stab at demographics and market research rather than any valid estimation of universality. Yet Saks’ remarkable, neglected early 16mm feature Forevermore: Biography of a Leach Lord (89) and his more recent videos like Creosote and Dust breathe an everyday American desperation that we can all recognize, even when it comes wrapped (as it often does) in a literary tradition — a form of layered, weathered melancholy about American hunger that Thomas Pynchon captured perfectly (albeit in a more hippie-humanist register) on an early page of his 1966 novel The Crying of Lot 49.… Read more »

PLAYTIME

Written in 2013 for a 2019 Taschen publication. — J.R.

PlayTime

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1. The Title

First of all, what is the title?  Like most other critics, I’ve generally known and written it as Playtime, but the final draft of the screenplay in late 1964 called it only Film Tati No. 4. Other early and tentative titles included Récreation (Recess) and La grande ville (The Big City).  In 1979, based on the credits sequence and ad logos, film academic Kristin Thompson wrote that the correct title was Play Time. But according to this volume’s editor, “Tati himself referred to it in correspondence always in capitals and always (at least from what I’ve seen) as one word,” i.e. as “PLAYTIME”. And “Macha Makeieff, as the rights holder to the Tati estate, took an official decision a few years back that the official spelling is now to be ‘PlayTime,’ i.e. in one word but with a capital ‘T’.”

Do such distinctions matter? I think they do. American historian Rick Perlstein has called “Play Time “a sentence, not a word, and a command,” adding that one can even “read it as two verbs, a double command.”… Read more »

Conversation with Paul Morrissey (Part II)

From Oui (March 1975). I no longer recall whether or not the editors changed the wording of some of my questions; I suspect that in many cases they did. Because of the length of this interview, I’m posting it in two parts. -– J.R.

Excerpted from the Introduction [obviously not by me]:

“Jonathan Rosenbaum interviewed Morrissey in Paris, shortly after the director had completed his latest films [Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula (sic, sic), only the second of which I’ve ever seen, then or since. -– J.R.] He described being greeted at the door by Nico, of the original and most durable Factory regulars:

“Nico entertained me with comparisons of Paris and Los Angeles, while Morrissey served me orange soda from his refrigerator,” he said. “Morrissey enjoys talking – the interview was nearly a monologue –- and he speaks in a slightly nasal tone, a cross between Brando and the Bronx.”

OUI: Let’s talk about political content. Your films are usually much more poignant and compassionate than you yourself are reputed to be. In some quarters of the film world, you have a political reputation that might be compared to Ronald Reagan’s.… Read more »

Conversation with Paul Morrissey (Part I)

From Oui (March 1975). I no longer recall whether or not the editors changed the wording of some of my questions; I suspect that in many cases they did. Because of the length of this interview, I’m posting it in two parts. -– J.R.

Excerpted from the Introduction [obviously not by me]:

“Jonathan Rosenbaum interviewed Morrissey in Paris, shortly after the director had completed his latest films [Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula (sic, sic), only the second of which I’ve ever seen, then or since. -– J.R.] He described being greeted at the door by Nico, of the original and most durable Factory regulars:

“Nico entertained me with comparisons of Paris and Los Angeles, while Morrissey served me orange soda from his refrigerator,” he said. “Morrissey enjoys talking –- the interview was nearly a monologue –- and he speaks in a slightly nasal tone, a cross between Brando and the Bronx.”

OUI: There’s a noticeable difference between your early movies, such as Trash, and your latest ones, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula. Is it true, as some critics contend, that you’ve gone from the underground to the surface?… Read more »

Betrayed

From the August 1, 1988 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

The usual limitation of director Costa-Gavras (Z, Missing) is that he makes well-crafted thrillers with liberal political themes that preach to the converted. The interesting thing about his latest movie, scripted by Joe Eszterhas (Jagged Edge), is that it does something rather different — more unsettling and morally ambiguous and, as a look at the underground white supremacist movement in the U.S., more disturbing and explosive. Debra Winger plays a federal agent who infiltrates a murderous group in the rural midwest in order to discover the murderer of a racist-baiting Chicago radio talk-show host (inspired in part by Alan Berg, the Jewish radio personality who was murdered in Denver). She becomes involved with one of the leaders (Tom Berenger) and his homespun all-American family, and is forced by her Chicago-based operative (John Heard) to hang on for dear life. Rather than give us stock racist villains, the film offers a relatively three-dimensional view of their life, their community, and their all-American eccentricities. (Berenger’s character, for example, hunts down blacks in cold blood and teaches anti-Semitism to his cute little girl, but he won’t shake the hand of an American Nazi.)… Read more »

Huck Finn and Mr. Welles (1988 lecture)

As far as I know, this is the only surviving remnant, at least on paper, of a lecture I gave at what may have been the first international and academic conference devoted to Orson Welles, held at New York University in May 1988. The footnotes haven’t survived. — J.R.

HuckFinnonradio

Note: The following is a revised version of a paper which was initially structured around four lengthy excerpts from the Huckleberry Finn radio show presented on The Campbell Playhouse. In order to make this adaptation, I have eliminated all of my remarks about music and sound effects and given more emphasis to allusion and description rather than citation. Interested readers are urged to consult the radio show, available on Mark 56 Records (no. 634), P.O. Box One, Anaheim, CA 92805. [April 2015: This can now be accessed online and for free here.]

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Huckleberry Finn was broadcast on The Campbell Playhouse on March 17, 1940, during the period when Orson Welles was commuting every week between Hollywood and New York. Herman Mankiewicz was working on the first draft of the Citizen Kane script at the time. Three and a half months had passed since the final version of the film script of Heart of Darkness had been completed, and two months since the final script of The Smiler with the Knife.… Read more »

King Kong (review of remake, 1977)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977. — J.R.

King Kong

U.S.A., 1976
Director: John Guillermin

The Petrox Oil Company sends an expedition by ship into Micronesia, hoping to find petroleum deposits on uncharted Skull Island. Group leader Fred Wilson and scientist Bagley believe that the vapor surrounding the island may come from oil, but Princeton University paleethnologist Jack Prescott — a stowaway — suggests animal respiration, and talks of ancient accounts of Kong, a prehistoric monster. Dwan, a prospective starlet and sole survivor of an explosion that destroyed a film producer’s boat en route to Hong Kong, is picked up before the ship reaches the island. Ashore, Wilson, Bagley, Jack and Dwan come upon an enormous wall and a native ritual in which a girl is about to be sacrificed. That night, as Dwan is about to keep a sexual rendezvous with Jack, she is kidnapped by natives and offered as an altar gift to Kong, a forty-foot ape who arrives and carries her away. While Jack penetrates the jungle with a rescue team, Wilson learns from Bagley that the island’s oil deposits won’t be usable for another 10,000 years, and begins to think of capturing Kong for use in Petrox publicity.… Read more »

An Encyclopedia of Nuanced Gestures: NELLY AND MONSIEUR ARNAUD

 Written for the Kino Lorber Blu-Ray of this film, released in September 2019. — J.R.

NellyandMonsieurArnaud2

Let me start with a confession about the ways that both fashion and one’s age can affect one’s taste. My first acquaintance with writer-director Claude Sautet (1924-2000) came when I was a hippie and cinephile in my late 20s living in Paris in the early ‘70s, a follower of Cahiers du Cinéma in my viewing preferences more than a follower of its leading monthly competitor, Positif, although I usually purchased both magazines. Back then, Sautet’s The Things of Life (1970), and César and Rosalie (1972) struck me as the epitome of well-crafted, genteel yuppie navel gazing, especially for what I took to be their uncritical embrace of the upper middle class. He was clearly a skilled director of actors, but the overall whiff of his milieu seemed complacent to a fault. Consequently, I steered clear of his 1974 Vincent, Francois, Paul and the Others, one of his biggest hits, and when, five years later, back in the U.S., I wrote an article about Chantal Akerman, Jean-Luc Godard, and the team of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet for the mainstream and middlebrow American Film, I was mortified when my editors condescendingly changed my title to “Jean-Luc, Chantal, Danièle, Jean-Marie, and the Others,” which led Akerman herself to reproach me for the piece, assuming that I’d dreamed up that title myself.… Read more »

Rotterdam 1987: the once and future cinema

From Sight and Sound (Spring 1987). –- J.R.

The Rotterdam Festival is gradually expanding in scope and attendance, while its survival seems to become increasingly polemical and precarious. Now in its 16th edition, the festival continues to honor its director Hubert Bals’ stubborn, utopian precept that, ‘An audience should be found for a film, not a film for an audience.’

Thus, while Libération critic Serge Daney was lecturing persuasively on the growing impossibility of critics mediating between films and audiences, it was possible to watch a videotape, Joan Does Dynasty, in which New York critic Joan Braderman, with the aid of Manuel De Landa’s computer graphics, does precisely that for the TV series.She appears in front of Dynasty in different sizes, shapes and positions, from diverse angles and with varying degrees of transparency, and delivers an exuberant, madcap critique of the show. Part of a cycle of low-budget, leftist media critiques known as Paper Tiger Television which appears on us public access cable and boasts more than a hundred titles in its catalogue, Braderman’s pungent intellectual stand-up is the likely formal masterpiece of a variable, slapdash series ranging from the unfocused and obvious (Peter Wollen on the U.S.… Read more »

Introduction to Rivette: Texts & Interviews (1977)

This book was published in 1977 by the British Film Institute and has been long out of print, although nearly all its contents has been reprinted on the excellent Jacques Rivette website, “Order of the Exile”. — J.R.

Rather than be considered in isolation, this book should be regarded as part of a general effort to make the work of Jacques Rivette available, in every sense of the term. This is not to imply that the following texts and interviews are being offered as a mere supplement to his films: if the entire body of Rivette’s work can be read as a series of evolving reflections on the cinema, the critical work contained in this volume is indissolubly linked with the critical work represented by his film-making. From this standpoint, it is not enough to say (for instance) that Rivette’s 1957 review of Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt helps to ‘explain’ — indeed, provides a veritable blueprint for — many of the preoccupations of his 1976 film Noroit. One of the assumptions of this collection is that it might be equally valuable to view Noroit as a key towards understanding Rivette’s important text on Lang.Read more »

Wild Game (1977 review)

This review appeared in the January 1977 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. The American title of this film was Jailbait.– J.R.

Wildwechsel (Wild Game)

West Germany, 1972
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cert — X. dist –- Contemporary. p.c –- InterTel (West German TV). In collaboration with Sender Freies. p — Gerhard  Freund. p. sup -– Manfred Kortowski. p. manager -– Rudolf Gürlich, Siegfried B. Glökler. asst. d –- Irm Hermann. sc –- Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Based on the play by Franz-Xaver Kroetz.  ph –- Dietrich Lohmann. In colour. ed — Thea Eymèsz, a.d –- Kurt Raab, m -– excerpts from the work of Beethoven. songs -– “You Are My Destiny” by and performed by Paul Anka. l.p –- Eva Mattes (Hanni Schneider), Harry Baer (Hans Bermeier), Jörg von Liebenfels (Erwin Schneider), Ruth Drexel (Hilda Schneider), Rudolf Waldemar Brem (Dieter), Hanna Schygulla (Doctor), Kurt Raab (Factory Boss), El Hedi Ben Salem (Franz’s Friend), Karl Schedit and Klaus Michael Löwitsch (Policemen), Irm Hermann and Marquart Bohm (Police Officials). 9,180 ft. 103 min. Subtitles.

Hanni Schneider, fourteen, gets picked up by Franz Bermeier, nineteen, and loses her virginity with him in a hayloft.… Read more »