Monthly Archives: January 2022

The Plain Truth [WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE & NELLY AND MONSIEUR ARNAUD]

From the Chicago Reader (June 21, 1996). — J.R.

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Todd Solondz

With Heather Matarazzo, Brendan Sexton Jr., Telly Pontidis, Herbie Duarte, Daria Kalinina, and Matthew Faber.

Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Claude Sautet

Written by Sautet, Jacques Fieschi, and Yves Ulmann

With Emmanuelle Beart, Michel Serrault, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Claire Nadeau, Francoise Brion, Michele Laroque, and Michael Lonsdale.

It’s hard to think of two stark depictions of blocked libido more dissimilar than Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse and Claude Sautet’s Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud. But they share at least one trait that deserves to be cherished — a trait that sets them apart from most other new movies. Both offer lively alternatives to the current lackluster, middlebrow exemplars of “literary” cinema — Cold Comfort Farm, The Horseman on the Roof, The Postman, Sense and Sensibility — clogging up our art theaters, beckoning us to feel more educated and civilized and thereby keeping out other movies that might address our everyday lives more directly. (I haven’t seen Moll Flanders, but I suspect that it and the horrendous Disney animated feature Hunchback of Notre Dame are mainstream versions of the same spreading disease.)… Read more »

On Penelope Houston

Written for Sight and Sound, November 2015. — J.R.

I hope I can be forgiven for quoting myself in my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (1993): “As I’ve discovered in my own endeavours in editing the prose of Truffaut, Welles and Bogdanovich, the best editing is usually the kind the reader is least aware of, though the supreme masters of this game – who within my experience are probably Penelope Houston and Michael Lenehan – sometimes manage to minimise the awareness of the writer as well.” Lenehan was the main editor for several years at the Chicago Reader, and Penelope’s stint at Sight and Sound was considerably longer. Over two decades later, I can add without hesitation that no editor that I’ve ever worked with has known more and taught me more about the mechanics of prose than Penelope.

But I hasten to add that my indebtedness to her goes far beyond her superb gifts as an editor. I might even say that it was her taste, above all, that drew me to her magazine in the first place, and her determination to acquire an English work permit for me – a process that I recall took the better part of half a year – that enabled me to move to London from Paris in 1974, to serve as assistant editor at Monthly Film Bulletin (under Richard Combs, a supportive boss and fine editor in his own right) and staff writer for Sight and Sound, my first major job anywhere.… Read more »

Freud and Marx: The Legacy of Luis Buñuel

 Commissioned and published online by BBC.com in November 2018. — J.R.

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Luis Buñuel was the greatest of all Spanish film-makers. He is also known as the greatest of all Surrealist film-makers – someone who kept returning to dreams and the unconscious, all the way from Un Chien Andalou, the silent avant-garde shocker he made with Salvador Dali, to Belle de Jour, in which sado-masochistic fantasies lurk beneath Catherine Deneuve’s chic surface. It’s no wonder that in critical studies of his films, the emphasis is on Freud as a “guide” to Bunuel’s greatness. But the influence of another thinker, Marx, was just as important. However surreal Bunuel’s work may be, political revolt and an acute feeling for class struggle informed all of it, whether it was French, Mexican or Spanish.

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Truly a child of the 20th century, Luis Bunuel Portoles was born in 1900, the oldest child in a prosperous Catholic family based in the Aragon region of Spain. He first made his mark four years after he moved to Paris in 1925, when he joined forces with Dali to make Un Chien Andalou. Buñuel and Dali began collaborating again on the hour-long L’Age d’or (1930), but their political differences were already driving them apart: Buñuel’s Marxism versus Dali’s conservatism. … Read more »

Big Deal On Madonna Street

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 2000). — J.R.

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Conceived as a kind of irreverent parody of both Rififi and The Asphalt Jungle, Mario Monicelli’s stumblebum heist film (1958) about a group of incompetent crooks trying to rob a safe full of jewels is one of the funniest Italian comedies ever made — certainly much funnier than the many imitations and remakes (i.e., rip-offs) it’s spawned over the years, including Louis Malle’s Crackers and Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks. Monicelli’s sense of character is priceless, and his fabulous cast — including Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Claudia Cardinale, and Renato Salvatori — makes the most of it. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

“The Doddering Relics of a Lost Cause”: John Ford’s THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT

This was originally published by the Viennale in 2004 as part of a catalogue (Die Früchte des Zorns und der Zärtlichkeit) accompanying a program of John Ford films selected by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet; it subsequently appeared online in Rouge no. 7 (2005). One can also access Kevin Lee’s two-part video featuring my commentary on both The Sun Shines Bright and Gertrud here and here. — J.R.

“The Doddering Relics of a Lost Cause”: John Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

My father helped to run a small chain of movie theaters in northwestern Alabama that were owned by my grandfather while I was growing up. He and my mother weren’t cinephiles, but on two separate occasions they took the trouble to travel to cities in different states to attend world premieres in the South while I was growing up. One was for a big Southern film from a big studio (M-G-M), Gone with the Wind, held in 1939 in Atlanta. The other was for a small Southern film from a small studio (Republic Pictures), The Sun Shines Bright, held in 1953 in what I believe was a city in Tennessee — most likely Nashville or Chattanooga, possibly Memphis or Knoxville.… Read more »

A Time to Lie (CROSS MY HEART)

From the Chicago Reader (November 20, 1987). — J.R.

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CROSS MY HEART

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Armyan Bernstein

Written by Armyan Bernstein and Gail Parent

With Martin Short, Annette O’Toole, Paul Reiser, and Joanna Kerns.

Like a 3-D movie, in which the illusion of depth is utterly dependent on the spectator’s rigidly foursquare frontal viewing position, Armyan Bernstein’s Cross My Heart is flat and fuzzy around the edges; tilt your head slightly, and the roundness of the characters vanishes immediately. But because the characters holding the center of the screen are nearly always Martin Short and Annette O’Toole — consummate pros commanding and regulating the space between and around them like two generals at a summit conference — there’s rarely any reason to look aside; our attention is riveted.

For all their charisma, one wouldn’t have thought O’Toole or Short capable of such mastery on the basis of their separate and earlier outings. Despite his frequent brilliance on SCTV and Saturday Night Live, mainly as a parodist of narcissistic TV and movie personalities ranging from Dick Cavett to Jerry Lewis (by way of Katharine Hepburn), Short was both literally and figuratively dwarfed by Steve Martin and Chevy Chase in Three Amigos, although admittedly all three amigos were mainly stranded by the anemic comic material.… Read more »

Fictional Biography as Film Criticism: Two Videos by Mark Rappaport

Written for the 99th issue of Trafic (Fall 2016) — a revision and slight expansion of two previous essays. — J.R.

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The rapidly and constantly expanding proliferation of films and videos about cinema is altering some of our notions about film history in at least two significant ways. For one thing, now that it has become impossible for any individual to keep abreast of all this work, our methodologies for assessing it as a whole have to be expanded and further developed. And secondly, insofar as one way of defining work in cinematic form and style that is truly groundbreaking is to single out work that defines new areas of content, the search for such work is one of the methodologies that might be most useful. In my case, this is a search that has led to considerations of two recent videos by Mark Rappaport: I, Dalio — or The Rules of the Game (2014, 33 minutes), and Debra Paget, For Example (2016, 37 minutes). Both are highly personal works that also define relatively new areas of on-film film analysis, forms of classification that can be described here as indexing.

 

Rappaport was born in New York and he lived and (mostly) worked there until he moved to Paris in 2005, although his work with found footage started over a decade earlier with Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992), followed by Exterior Night (made in Germany for German television in 1993), From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995), The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender (1997), and his 2002 short John Garfield. … Read more »

A Major Talent [on SWEETIE]

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From the Chicago Reader (March 30, 1990). I must confess that  I was disappointed for a long time that none of Campion’s subsequent films lived up to the promise of Sweetie, in spite of the virtues of some of them, at least until her wonderful 2014 miniseries Top of the Lake, which I’ve just belatedly caught up with. (I’ll never forget a bitter comment Jean-Luc Godard made to me in Toronto in 1996, citing Campion as a perfect example of a talented filmmaker “completely destroyed by money”.) But then again, to cite someone cross-referenced in this review (and also significantly cross-referenced in Top of the Lake, a kind of feminist response to Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks), it’s also hard to think of many David Lynch films that have lived up to the promise of Eraserhead, at least prior to Inland Empire….I suspect that the collaboration of writer Gerard Lee on Passionless Moments, Sweetie, and Top of the Lake has something to do with what makes all three of them stand out so vividly in Campion’s oeuvre.– J.R.

SWEETIE

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jane Campion

Written by Gerard Lee and Campion

With Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, Dorothy Barry, Jon Darling, Michael Lake, and Andre Pataczek.… Read more »

French Revelations [on LE DIVORCE]

From the August 8, 2003 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Le Divorce

*** (A must-see)

Directed by James Ivory

Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Ivory

With Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Thierry Lhermitte, Leslie Caron, Melvil Poupaud, Glenn Close, Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Matthew Modine, Jean-Marc Barr, Nathalie Richard, Bebe Neuwirth, and Stephen Fry.

Producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and their regular screenwriter-adapter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala seem to have a special affinity for Americans in Paris, the subject of three of their five most recent films — Jefferson in Paris (1995), A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries (1998), and now Le Divorce. The first of these is one of their worst features, while the second and third are among their best. So their special affinity doesn’t seem to matter as much as the quality of their material and their particular feeling for it. In the case of Le Divorce, their fidelity to the civilized attitudes of Diane Johnson’s novel makes this one of their most sophisticated and entertaining features to date.

The novel is narrated by Isabel, a 19-year-old film-school dropout from Santa Barbara who’s gone to Paris to visit her older stepsister Roxy, a poet married to a French painter and pregnant with their second child.… Read more »

Why Is This Movie a Hit?

From the Chicago Reader (March 4, 1994). — J.R.

* ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE

(Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Tom Shadyac

Written by Jack Bernstein, Jim Carrey, and Shadyac

With Carrey, Sean Young, Courteney Cox, Tone Loc, and Dan Marino.

Why go back to a movie that affected me the first time like a piece of chalk squeaking across a blackboard? Well, for one thing, neither I nor any other reviewer I know of came anywhere close to predicting that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective would not only find an audience but sail to the top of the box-office charts. How did we all miss the boat? “An appallingly bad movie, a certain candidate for worst of the year,” begins Gene Siskel’s capsule review in the Tribune; it concludes, “Don’t ask how this was financed.” These were my sentiments exactly at the press screening — a sort of stupefied horror at the manic leers and terminally stupid gags of star and cowriter Jim Carrey, coupled with disbelief that anyone could possibly go for them. But when the movie opened it soon became clear that at least some financiers knew exactly what they were doing. What did they understand that the rest of us grown-ups missed out on?… Read more »

My Favorite DVDs of 2018 (for DVD Beaver)

Go here for many more choices. — J.R.

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Top Blu-ray Releases of 2018:

 

1. Daisies (Vera Chytilova, 1966); UK, Second Run

2. The Adventures of Hajji Baba (Don Weis, 1954); Twilight Time

3. The Colour of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1969); UK, Second Sight

4. An Actor’s Revenge (Kon Ichikawa, 1963); Criterion

5. The Covered Wagon (James Cruze, 1923); Kino Lorber

6. Moonrise (Frank Borzage, 1948); Criterion

7. The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1954); UK, Masters of Cinema

8. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995); Criterion

9. This is Cinerama (Merian C. Cooper, Gunther von Fritsch, 1952); Flicker Alley

10. Figures in a Landscape (Joseph Losey, 1970); France, Carlotta Films

 

Top 5 Box Set Releases of 2018 :

L&LM

1. Liebelei & Lola Montez (Max Ophuls, 1933 & 1955); Munich Filmmuseum; PAL, Germany

2. Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series (David Lynch, 2017 ); Paramount*

3. Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood; Criterion

4. Clouzot: Early Works; Kino

5. Early Hou-Hsiao-Hsien: THREE FILMS 1980-1983; UK, Masters of Cinema

 

*As DVD Beaver points out, this actually was released in 2017. I selected it anyway because it was the best bargain of the year.

 Read more »

Richie’s Ozu: Our Prehistoric Present (Part 3)

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Unfortunately, Richie’s division of Ozu into successive stages of ‘creation’ inevitably leads to the erection of a Platonic ideal, an all-purpose model of ‘the’ Ozu film — an unrigorous model indeed when what one concretely has to contend with are films, each with its own peculiar set of conditions and stresses. Since Richie has more production details about the later films, these tend to dictate most of the dimensions of the model, and the lost films implicitly become subsumed in the same homogenising process whenever Richie speaks about the entire body of the work. The usual approach is to lump together examples of certain aspects or procedures, leading to the formulation of such generalities as ‘the Ozu family’. This results in a profusion of catalogues, some quite nonsensical in presumed meanings and applications: ‘Another pastime to which the Ozu family is addicted is toenail cutting, an activity which seems worth mentioning because it occurs possibly more often in Ozu’s pictures (Late Spring, Early Summer, Late Autumn) than in Japanese life.’ In the long run, individual works are made to seem important or unimportant insofar as they help or fail to exemplify the hypothetical model.

Problem No.… Read more »

Not All Angels Have Wings: Notes on Masumura’s RED ANGEL

This is my text, read aloud for an audiovisual essay on Arrow Films’ new digital release of Red Angel.Due to a technical glitch in my sound recording, Arrow had to omit the last portion of my narration, which is retained here, — J.R.

Hello. My name is Jonathan Rosenbaum and I’m a Chicago-based film critic. Thanks to a research project that I embarked on in the late 1990s, and which I was able to pursue in both the United States and in Japan, I estimate that I’ve been able to see around 40 of Yasuzo Masumura’s 55 features. These 55 features were all made between 1957 and 1982. And on the basis of the 40 or so that I’ve seen, I would offer the generalization that Masumura’s best features often tend to be the ones in black and white and Cinemascope that were made in the 1960s, which was his most prolific period, and that a good many of them star the wonderful young actress Ayako Wakao, whom he first encountered when he was working as an assistant director to Kenji Mizoguchi on the latter’s final feature, Street of Shame, only two years before Masumura directed her in his own second feature, The Blue Sky Maiden.Read more »

Richie’s Ozu: Our Prehistoric Present (Part 2)

For the beginning of this article, go here

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While one could hardly claim that Days of Youth is a major work, it is at the very least an arresting one, and some of its comedy is on a par with the wonderful opening sequence of Passing Fancy (1933) at a naniwabushi recital (when a stray purse gets surreptitiously picked up, investigated, and tossed around like a beanbag by various spectators until the. entire assemblage, reciter included, is dancing about from an attack of lice). One would expect, then, that any serious Ozu scholar would pay some heed to it. Yet all that Richie has done in Ozu — apart from noting at one point that, like all of Ozu’s subsequent films, it shows actors directly facing the camera — is to expand his original commentary on the film (in Film Comment, Spring 1971) from five words (‘A student comedy about skiing’) to seven: ‘Another student comedy,  this one about skiing.’ And if one searches in his book for something about Tatsuo Saito — an actor who went on to play the father in I Was Born, But . . . (1932), and figured centrally in several of the twenty other Ozu films where he appeared — one finds that he isn’t even listed in the index; in fact, the only reference to him in the entire book is the observation that he ‘keeps rubbing his hip during various scenes’ in Tokyo Chorus.… Read more »

Richie’s Ozu: Our Prehistoric Present (Part 1)

From the Summer 1975 issue of Sight and Sound. Due to the length of this piece, I’m running it in three parts. I’ve hesitated for years about reprinting this because of its harshness towards the very amiable and sweet-tempered Donald Richie (1924-2013), whom I eventually met and befriended in Tokyo a quarter of a century after writing this piece (and who generously forgave me for having written it after I offered an apology). Even though I can’t say I agree with everything I wrote here — I’m especially dubious about some of Burch’s arguments (and many or all of the passages I quote here from To the Distant Observer, which he was writing at the time, subsequently got edited out of the manuscript) — it holds up better than I suspected it would, which is why I’m posting it here. I tend to think now that the failings of Richie’s book on Ozu are more institutional than personal — that is, a reflection of his unfortunate virtual monopoly on critical discourse in English about Japanese cinema during that period. — J.R.

 

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A few years ago in New York, a lecture by Henri Langlois was announced at the Museum of Modern Art under the rough heading — I quote from memory — of ‘Why We Know Nothing About Cinema’.… Read more »