From the Chicago Reader (November 21, 2003). — J.R.
This stunning 93-minute video (2002) by Canadian conceptual artist Michael Snow might be his greatest work since La region centrale over 30 years ago. Almost certainly his most accessible feature, it combines elements from virtually all his previous films: the inexorable camera movement of Wavelength, Back and Forth, and La region centrale; the encyclopedic cataloging of Rameau’s Nephew; the playful self-reflexivity of So Is This. This is also his first encounter with digital video, and it explores all the things DV can do to stretch, compress, and distort bodies, a subject Snow explores formally, comically, and at times even ideologically. (There’s a lot of dialectical play in the film between two distinct spaces: a very contemporary row of staffed computer stations, backed by windows overlooking a cityscape, and a completely sealed-off bomb shelter of a living room filled with 50s kitsch and inhabited by an all-American family, in which a TV set clearly “rhymes” with the computer screens.) Not counting the asterisk, the title refers to the tissue connecting the hemispheres of the brain, an apt reference given the prodigious and joyful inventiveness on display. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films. Read more
This fairly recent (and much more recently updated) piece is a sequel to my earlier “À la recherche de Luc Moullet: 25 Propositions,” originally written and published in 1977. –J.R.
Almost thirty years have passed between my extended defense of Luc Moullet in Film Comment and the long-overdue launch of the first American retrospective devoted to this mainly comic French filmmaker, who’s also a critic. But it was worth the wait. In the spring of 2006, “Luc Moullet: Agent Provocateur of the New Wave,” including eight of his 32 films, showed up at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center. And three years later, a complete Moullet retrospective was shown in Paris, accompanied by much fanfare, including the publication of a DVD featuring ten of his best short films, Luc Moullet en shorts, and three separate books: a lengthy interview with Emmanuel Burdeau et Jean Narboni (Notre Alpin Quotidien, 130 pages) and a long-overdue collection of his film criticism (Pige Choisies [De Griffith à Ellroy], 372 pages), both published by Capricci, and a study of King Vidor’s The Fountainhead (Le Rebelle de King Vidor: les arêtes vives), published by Yellow Now.
Moullet started out in the mid-1960s as a neoprimitive, brandishing his lack of technique while reflecting some of the tenderness of Francois Truffaut’s films of that period as well as some of the boorish satirical humor of Jean-Luc Godard’s. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 2002). — J.R.
Seeing this 1968 masterpiece in 70-millimeter, digitally restored and with remastered sound, provides an ideal opportunity to rediscover this mind-blowing myth of origin as it was meant to be seen and heard, an experience no video setup, no matter how elaborate, could ever begin to approach. The film remains threatening to contemporary studiothink in many important ways: Its special effects are used so seamlessly as part of an overall artistic strategy that, as critic Annette Michelson has pointed out, they don’t even register as such. Dialogue plays a minimal role, yet the plot encompasses the history of mankind (a province of SF visionary Olaf Stapledon, who inspired Kubrick’s cowriter, Arthur C. Clarke). And, like its flagrantly underrated companion piece, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, it meditates at length on the complex relationship between humanity and technology — not only the human qualities that we ascribe to machines but also the programming we knowingly or unknowingly submit to. The film’s projections of the cold war and antiquated product placements may look quaint now, but the poetry is as hard-edged and full of wonder as ever. 139 min. (JR)