This short essay, originally published in December 1993, was the first time I was ever commissioned to write liner notes for a CD — in this case, the soundtrack music for Jon Jost’s The Bed You Sleep In, composed by Erling Wold and released by The Table of the Elements. (The second time was this month, July 2019, when I was invited to write a short essay for a CD in the U.K. of Carlos Santos’ soundtrack score for Pere Portabella’s masterpiece Vampir Cuadecuc.) — J.R.
The Bed You Sleep In is the twelfth feature of Jon Jost, one of the most independent of all American independent filmmakers, and in more ways than one. It can be regarded as a kind of summary of his preceding work. From a conventional standpoint, Jost’s first eleven features, made over the past two decades, fall into two loose categories: fiction (Angel City, Last Chants for a Slow Dance, Chameleon, Slow Moves, Bell Diamond, Rembrandt Laughing, All the Vermeers in New York, and Sure Fire) and personal, experimental essays (Speaking Directly, Stagefright, and uncommon senses). But Jost is far from conventional, and a closer work at his work reveals that such neat divisions can’t always be made. Read more
The anarchistic and unpredictable English director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Walker) goes bilingual in this 1992 Mexican picture, spoken in Spanish throughout. In some ways it’s his best work to date — a beautifully realized tale about the life of a Mexican highway patrolman who’s neither sentimentalized nor treated like a villain: he takes bribes, but has a sense of ethics. Wonderfully played by Mexican star Roberto Sosa, he’s a more believable cop than any Hollywood counterparts that come to mind. Starting off as a sadsack comedy with black overtones, the film gravitates into grim neorealism, but Cox also displays a flair for surrealist filigree (worthy of Bunuel in spots) and straight-ahead action, and does some marvelous things with actors and the Mexican landscape. In some respects, this is a return to the funky, witty pleasures of Repo Man, but the virtuoso long-take camera style — there are only 187 cuts in the entire movie — and emotional depth show a more mature Cox. (I hope the other Mexican feature he made around the same time — a masterful, baroque black-and-white adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’s “Death and the Compass” done for the BBC, with a camera style suggesting Touch of Evil — will eventually be imported as well.) Read more
One of the constants of Chantal Akerman’s remarkable work is a powerful if heavy painterly style that practically precludes narrative flow even when she’s telling stories. Even at her best, as in Jeanne Dielman and The Man With a Suitcase, the only kind of character development she seems able to articulate with conviction is a gradual descent into madness. But the relatively unneurotic Night and Day (1991) strikes me as her most successful work in years. Julie (Guilaine Londez), the heroine, makes love to Jack (Thomas Langmann) in their small flat by day and wanders through Paris at night while he drives a cab — until she meets Joseph (Francois Negret) and guiltlessly launches a secret nighttime affair with him. Akerman brings a lyricism to the material that makes it sing like a musical. Whether the camera is gracefully traversing Jack and Julie’s flat or slowly retreating from Julie and Joseph across bustling traffic while he recounts the things he loves about Paris, Akerman seems to have discovered both a musical rhythm for her mise en scene and a deftness in integrating her score that eluded her in her literal musical Window Shopping. Read more