Daily Archives: January 18, 2022

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 »