Yearly Archives: 2021

Forugh Farrokhzad

SIN: SELECTED POEMS BY FORUGH FARROKHZAD, translated by Sholeh Wolpé, Forward by Alicia Ostriker, Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2007, 134 pp.

I came upon this book quite by chance yesterday, while browsing through a bookstore. Although    I have three earlier collections of Forugh Farrokhzad’s poetry in English (BRIDE OF ACACIAS, translated by Jascha Kessler with Amin Banani, Delmar, NY: Caravan Books, 1982; A REBIRTH, translated by David Martin, Costa Mesa, CA: Mesa Publishers, 1997; and REMEMBERING THE FLIGHT: TWENTY POEMS BY FORUGH FARROKHZAD, translated by Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Port Coquitlam, B.C., Canada: Nik Publishers, 1997), and one book in English about her poetry (A LONELY WOMAN: FORUGH FARROKHZAD AND HER POETRY by Michael C. Hillmann, Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press and Mage Publishers, 1997), all these books have been and remain extremely difficult to come by, and apart from the Hillman (jn an earlier edition), none of these is even mentioned in the “Recommended Reading” at the end of this new volume.

It’s a sad fact that while apparently you can go into any good-sized bookstore in Iran and expect  to find translations of the major works of William Faulkner (or so I’ve been told by Iranian friends), finding any translated book by the most important Iranian woman poet of the 20th century (1935-1967) in even a large American bookstore has been virtually impossible up until now.… Read more »

Lonesome

 

Paul Fejos’s exquisite, poetic 1928 masterpiece about love and estrangement in the big city deserves to be ranked with F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise and King Vidor’s The Crowd from the same period, though it’s not nearly as well-known. Equally neglected is Fejos himself, a peripatetic Hungarian who made striking films in Hungary, Hollywood, Austria, and France in the late silent and early sound era before becoming an anthropologist — and making a few ethnographic films that are even harder to find. Lonesome, which has some dialogue, begins with a dazzling evocation, using superimpositions and diptychs, of the hero and heroine, who haven’t yet met, as they wake and pursue their morning work routines. They meet at Coney Island that afternoon, lose track of each other in a crowd, then are reunited back in the city in a surprising diptychlike scene. Fejos was already interested in ethnographic archetypes when he made this picture, which makes city life seem like a labyrinth in a fairy tale — as intricate and inscrutable, but also as enchanted. 69 min. The opening event of the weekend symposium “Cinema as Vernacular Modernism”; a 35-millimeter print will be screened. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th St.,… Read more »

Lord Love a Duck

From the Chicago Reader (August 23, 2002). — J.R.

George Axelrod’s 1966 black comedy about sexual hysteria and the American dream presents a view of southern California that rivals Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust in its savagery and satirical insight. Tuesday Weld, in a career-defining performance, plays a luscious high schooler whose Mephistophelian classmate (Roddy McDowell) promises to get her everything she wants, and though the movie is sometimes too dark to be simply funny, a good bit of it is flat-out hilarious. Lola Albright is especially good as Weld’s mother, and the scene in which Weld and her father (Max Showalter) shop for sweaters may top Kubrick’s Lolita (as well as Nabokov’s) in its sheer audacity. Axelrod, directing his first feature, collaborated with Larry H. Johnson on the screenplay, adapting a novel by Al Hine; with Ruth Gordon, Martin West, and Harvey Korman. 102 min. (JR)

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Welcome, Stranger [UNCLE NINO & BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE]

From the Chicago Reader (February 18, 2005). — J.R.

Uncle Nino

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Bob Shallcross

With Joe Mantegna, Pierrino Mascarino, Anne Archer, Trevor Morgan, and Gina Mantegna

Because of Winn-Dixie

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Wayne Wang

Written by Joan Singleton

With AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson, Dave Matthews, and Eva Marie Saint

An uninvited guest joins an already stressed household, causing pandemonium and upsetting the neighbors as well. The preoccupied, absentminded father assumes this obstreperous if good-natured invader is visiting only temporarily, but on and on he stays, irritating almost everyone apart from the young daughter. Eventually the interloper wins everyone over and brings them all together.

That’s the familiar plot of not one but two current commercial releases, both wholesome family pictures. The visitor in Uncle Nino, which opened last week, is the title hero (Pierrino Mascarino), an elderly Italian peasant with a minimal knowledge of English who flies to the U.S. to visit the family of his nephew Robert (Joe Mantegna) after his brother, Robert’s father, dies. The visitor in Because of Winn-Dixie, which opens this week, is also the title hero, a stray dog in a small town in southern bayou country that’s taken in by the ten-year-old heroine, Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of a Baptist preacher (Jeff Daniels).… Read more »

The World in a Beijing Theme Park

From the Chicago Reader (July 29, 2005). — J.R.

The World

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and Written by Jia Zhang-ke

With Zhao Tao, Chen Taishen, Jing Jue, Jiang Zhongwei, Huang Yiqun, Wang Hongwei, Liang Jingdong, Ji Shuai, and Alla Chtcherbakova

The title of Jia Zhang-ke’s 2004 masterpiece, The World — a film that’s hilarious and upsetting, epic and dystopian — is an ironic pun and a metaphor. It’s also the name of the real theme park outside Beijing where most of the action is set and practically all its characters work. “See the world without ever leaving Beijing” is one slogan for the 115-acre park, where a monorail circles scaled-down replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, London Bridge, Saint Mark’s Square, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pyramids, and even a Lower Manhattan complete with the Twin Towers. Extravagant kitsch like this may offer momentary escape from the everyday, but Jia is interested in showing the everyday activities needed to hold this kitsch in place as well as the alienation in this displaced world — and therefore in the world in general, including the one we know.

Jia, with his choreographed wide-screen long takes in long shot, may be the best cinematic composer of figures in landscapes since Michelangelo Antonioni.… Read more »

The Greatest Film Ever Made?

This appeared in the May 1, 2008 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Last Year at Marienbad ****

DIRECTED BY ALAIN RESNAIS

WRITTEN BY ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET

WITH GIORGIO ALBERTAZZI, DELPHINE SEYRIG, AND SACHA PITOEFF

It’s too bad Last Year at Marienbad was the most fashionable art-house movie of 1961-’62, because as a result it’s been maligned and misunderstood ever since. The chic allure of Alain Resnais’ second feature — a maddening, scintillating puzzle set in glitzy surroundings — produced a backlash, and one reason its defenders and detractors tend to be equally misguided is that both respond to the controversy rather than to the film itself.

“I am now quite prepared to claim that Marienbad is the greatest film ever made, and to pity those who cannot see this,” proclaimed one French critic, even as others ridiculed what they perceived as the film’s pretentious solemnity — overlooking or missing its playful, if poker-faced, use of parody as well as its outright scariness. Dwight Macdonald, who admitted to seeing the movie three times in a week, confessed in Esquire that it made him feel like a dog in one of Pavlov’s experiments. In the Village Voice, on the other hand, Jonas Mekas claimed that “the film begins and ends in the brain of Alain Robbe-Grillet, who wrote the script” and added, “Its forced intellectualism is sick.”… Read more »

The Delmer Daves Problem

Written for my En movimiento column for the September 2013 issue of Caiman Cuadernos de Cine. Reseeing The Hanging Tree tonight, I was fascinated to discover how much McCabe and Mrs Miller was indebted to its prostitutes and its fires, and how often Daves could use a crane as if it were a musical instrument.— J.R.

“Many of Delmer Daves’s films are beloved, but to say that he remains a misunderstood and insufficiently appreciated figure in the history of American movies is a rank understatement.” This is how critic Kent Jones begins the second of his two essays accompanying the simultaneous Criterion releases on DVD and Blu-Ray of Jubal (1956) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957), the first two in a string of three Westerns that Daves made with Glenn Ford. (The third was Cowboy in 1958.)

I saw the two Blu-Rays, in reverse order, on the same day, and I agree entirely with Jones that 3:10 to Yuma (ignoring its reportedly lamentable recent remake) is a remarkable achievement — as much for Glenn Ford’s performance as a charismatic villain as it is for the diverse dramatic and visual nuances of Daves, working in black and white and widescreen. Speaking as someone for whom Glenn Ford’s heroism in my youth was as important as that of James Stewart or Cary Grant, I was also astonished by the unpredictable and multileveled killer-hipster and delicate gangleader-womanizer he creates here (and also grateful for a fascinating interview with his son and biographer Peter Ford, included as a bonus).… Read more »

Cinema versus TV News (2008)

This is the 8th bimonthly column I’ve published in Cahiers du Cinéma España; it ran in their September 2008 issue. — J.R.

Ever since I retired from my twenty-year stint as a film reviewer at the Chicago Reader, I’ve been reluctant to see new releases, either as a freelance reviewer or as an ordinary spectator. One reason for this attitude is a reaction to having been obliged for so long to see many hundreds of films I had no personal interest in, many of which I gratefully forgot about shortly after submitting my reviews. Another motivation is that I’m usually so happy seeing or reseeing older films, most often on DVD, that it’s hard to find many new films that are equally enticing.

Undoubtedly my age and physical laziness both play roles in this bias, but I honestly think that the diminishing quality of commercial releases also has a significant influence. I’m not saying that there’s been a decline in cinema more generally — apart from such factors as the eclipse of the Hollywood studios or (for example) the increasing censorship in Iran — because I think it’s arrogant to make such sweeping generalizations on the basis of the tiny fraction of what gets made that one has access to.… Read more »

Escaping the Numbers Racket (2008)

My sixth bimonthly column for Cahiers du Cinéma España, this ran in their April 2008 issue (No. 11). — J.R.

A personal highpoint for me at the 42nd annual voting session of the National Society of film Critics, held in early January, was successfully proposing two of the awards given that afternoon. One was for the best experimental film of 2007, which went to John Gianvito’s Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind — a beautiful 59-minute documentary about cemeteries and memorials in the U.S. commemorating political struggles, made by the writer-director of The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001), a dedicated independent who might be described as an “amateur” filmmaker in the very best sense of the word (much as Jean Cocteau could be described in the same fashion). The other prize, the “Film Heritage Award,” went jointly “to Ford at Fox, a 21-disc box set from Fox Home Video” and “to Ross Lipman of the UCLA Film and Television Archive for the restoration of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and other independent films”. I should add that only the first of these two awards was my own idea; for the Film Heritage Award, I was simply conveying and arguing on behalf of the proposal of an absent member of the National Society of Film Critics, Dave Kehr (a critic who writes the excellent weekly DVD column for the New York Times).… Read more »

National Society of Film Critics Awards (2016) & Two Comments (2017)

SPECIAL CITATION for a film awaiting American distribution: Sieranevada (Romania) Cristi Puiu

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FILM HERITAGE AWARD: Kino Lorber’s 5-disc collection “Pioneers of African-American Cinema

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BEST ACTOR

*1. Casey Affleck (65) – Manchester by the Sea

2. Denzel Washington (21) – Fences

3. Adam Driver (20) – Paterson

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BEST ACTRESS

*1. Isabelle Huppert (55) – Elle and Things to Come

2. Annette Bening (26) – 20th Century Women

2. Sandra Hüller (26) – Toni Erdmann [tied with Bening]

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

*1. Mahershala Ali (72) – Moonlight

2. Jeff Bridges (18) – Hell or High Water

3. Michael Shannon (14) – Nocturnal Animals

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

*1. Michelle Williams (58) – Manchester by the Sea

2. Lily Gladstone (45) – Certain Women

3. Naomie Harris (25) – Moonlight

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BEST SCREENPLAY

*1. Manchester by the Sea (61) – Kenneth Lonergan

2. Moonlight (39) – Barry Jenkins

3. Hell or High Water (16) – Taylor Sheridan

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

*1. Moonlight (52) – James Laxton

2. La La Land (27) – Linus Sandgren

3. Silence (23) – Rodrigo Prieto

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BEST PICTURE

*1. Moonlight (54)

2. Manchester by the Sea (39)

3. La La Land (31)

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BEST DIRECTOR

*1. Barry Jenkins (53) – Moonlight

2.… Read more »

The End-of-Film-Criticism Industry (2009)

This was published as my ninth one-page column in  Cahiers du Cinéma España; it ran in their January 2009 issue (No. 19). — J.R.

It’s by no means unusual for a “retired” film scholar such as myself to find more work as a freelancer since my retirement late last February than I did for most of the previous two decades as a staff reviewer for the Chicago Reader. Two of my contemporaries, both former academics and both friends of mine — the slightly younger David Bordwell and the slightly older James Naremore — have told me that they’re busier nowadays than they were when they were teaching. But what seems more surprising, at least to me, is how much of my time recently has been consumed by my participation in panels and symposia, both in print and in person, about the alleged death of film criticism. The October issue of Sight and Sound is full of ruminations on this subject, under such headings as “Who needs critics?” and “critics on critics”; so is the Autumn issue of Cineaste, where the stated topic is “Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet: A Critical Symposium”. A week from now, I will be flying from Chicago to the New York Film Festival to speak on a panel called “Film Criticism in Crisis?”… Read more »

Cult Confusion (HAPPY TOGETHER)

From the Chicago Reader (January 23, 1998). Today I would probably rank this movie much higher. — J.R.

Happy Together

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Wong Kar-wai

With Tony Leung, Leslie Cheung, and Chang Chen.

At some point in the mid-90s Wong Kar-wai’s exciting and hyperbolic style lost its moorings. Whether this happened between Days of Being Wild (1990) and Chungking Express (1994), during the two years it took to make Ashes of Time (1994), or between the latter two films and Fallen Angels (1995), Wong’s powerful organic flow, which makes Days of Being Wild his only masterpiece to date, has atrophied into a slag heap of individual set pieces.

Many of these set pieces are thrilling enough in their own right. Fallen Angels has plenty of them, spaced out like showstoppers in a vaudeville revue, though their effectiveness tends to diminish, their frenetic intensity ultimately becoming monotonous. Like the mannerist tics comprising Wong’s style — the use of different characters as narrators; the momentary freeze-frames punctuating Christopher Doyle’s slowed, slurred, or speeded-up cinematography; the shifts between color and black and white; and the bumpy transitions between garish forms of lighting and visual texture — his set pieces always provide a lively surface activity.… Read more »

En movimiento: Welles in Woodstock

A column for the Spanish magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. I believe it was written circa May 2014-.  J.R.

En movimiento: Welles in Woodstock

Jonathan Rosenbaum

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I’ve recently returned from Woodstock Celebrates Orson Welles, a delightful two-day event in Illinois (16-17 May) organized by Kathleen Spaltro and commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Todd Theatre Festival held at the Woodstock Opera House in 1934, orchestrated by Welles at the age of 19 and sponsored by his mentor and one of his lifelong best friends, Roger Hill — headmaster of the Todd School for Boys, which Welles attended from 1926 to 1930.

Woodstock display

When Welles graduated from Todd, Hill wanted him to attend Harvard while Welles’ guardian, Dr. Maurice Bernstein (whom Everett Sloane’s character in Citizen Kane was named after), hoped he would go to Cornell. But Welles, still under the spell of an article published by one of Chicago’s leading drama critics, Ashton Stevens (who wrote for the Chicago Herald-American, a Hearst newspaper, and was the model for Jed Leland in Kane), predicting that the young genius was destined to become a major actor, didn’t want to go to college. So a compromise was struck:  Welles would travel to Scotland, Ireland, and England on a sketching tour before embarking on any formal education, writing letters home to chart his progress and his adventures.… Read more »

ASPERN (1984)

This was written in May 2014 for an Italian volume about fantastique cinema between 1980 and 2010 coedited by Antonio Gragnaniello. — J.R.

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Speaking to Tom Milne and Richard Combs in Monthly Film Bulletin, the director of Aspern, Eduardo de Gregorio (1942-2012), avowed that “it was never meant to be a fantastique film”— which isn’t surprising given that its source, Henry James’ novella The Aspern Papers, has no relation to that genre either. But it was regarded by several French critics as having some relation to fantastique, apparently for two reasons: because fantastique as opposed to fantasy is often regarded as a matter of style and/or atmosphere rather than content, and because the better known works of de Gregorio — such as his scripts for Jacques Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau, Duelle, and Noroît and his own Sérail and Tangos volés—clearly belong to fantastique, while his work as a whole has clear links to both the 19th century Gothic tradition and the so-called “magical realism” of 20th century Latin American literature.

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Even though much of Henry James’ dialogue is carried over into Aspern (translated into French), its basic plot — an obsessive literary scholar (the narrator in James’ tale) insinuates himself into the Venice household of an aged woman cared for by her lonely spinster niece with the aim of procuring her love letters from Aspern, a long-deceased romantic poet she was once involved with — undergoes several decisive changes in de Gregorio’s version, scripted by his partner at the time, Michael Graham.Read more »

Recommended Reading: Repertory Movie Theaters of New York City

Jonathan Rosenbaum writer at the 59th International Film Festival of San Sebastian

Labors of love can be executed well or badly, and one of the many pleasures of this new book from McFarland — quite apart from the fact that its author, Ben Davis, interviewed me at some length for it (full disclosure), and quotes me accurately — is that it’s done so well. This is above all a work of social history, and because the 34 years that it covers includes all of my own extended sojourns in Manhattan and environs (in particular, 1961-1963, 1966-1969, 1978-1983), I can vouch for its accuracy as well as its success in evoking a now-vanished film culture without ever succumbing to the distortions of nostalgia. (I was interviewed mainly about my adventures in programming at the Carnegie Hall Cinema and the Bleecker Street Cinema, thanks to the support and assistance of Jackie Raynal and Sid Geffen.) The fine selection of photographs also helps a lot — although, thanks to the vagaries of the Internet, only one of these (the first) is posted below. [5/25/17]

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Thalia

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CHC

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