Daily Archives: April 12, 2022

Jacques Tati’s TRAFIC on Criterion DVD

This review appeared originally in Fanzine, 6/26/08. –J.R.

Given the size of his achievement, it’s astonishing that Jacques Tati made only half a dozen features, none of them bad. But if I had to single out any of these as a lesser work, I’d pick Trafic (1971), the only one that qualifies as compromised.

Others might select Parade (1973), Tati’s final film –– because it was mainly shot on video and virtually dispenses with plot by basically following the contours of a far-from-spectacular circus performance. But they’d be wrong. Though it’s the least known Tati feature and the most modest in terms of budget, Parade is by no means Tati’s least ambitious or adventurous film. In some ways it even qualifies as his most radical –– in its refusal to clearly separate life from spectacle or prioritize professional performers over unprofessional spectators. Unfortunately, the less analytical and more sentimental celebrations of Tati –– including the charming 1989 documentary by the late Sophie Tatischeff about her father, In the Footsteps of Monsieur Hulot, that’s a bonus on the second disc here –– tend to overlook this radicalism.

Trafic, on the other hand, represented a conscious step backward for Tati. Read more

Hollywood Mon Amour

From the Chicago Reader (June 8, 2007) — J.R.




It might sound crazy to call Alain Resnais the last of the great Hollywood studio directors when he’s never made a single movie in Hollywood. But classic Hollywood filmmaking, as defined by the aesthetics and craftsmanship of the system from the 30s through the 60s, transcends location. Indeed, many of the best recent examples, like Black Book and Angel-A, are European. And from its breathtaking opening shot, which sweeps across a wintry Parisian cityscape to the windows of an apartment house just as blinds are lowered and a door slams, the director’s newest film, Private Fears in Public Places, clearly belongs to that tradition.

Made by Resnais in his mid-80s, this movie is a real heart-breaker—one reason I prefer the French title, Coeurs (“hearts”). Derived from a recent play by Alan Ayckbourn (Resnais also adapted his Intimate Exchanges for the 1993 film Smoking/No Smoking), Private Fears in Public Places is a labyrinthine tale of crisscrossing destinies, missed connections, enclosures that poignantly echo one another, and muffled romantic and erotic feelings. Read more

Fredric Brown, Madness, and CRACK-UP

One of my favorite writers since childhood has been the prolific Fredric Brown (1906-1972), both for his mysteries and his science fiction. The former is much more plentiful than the latter—so much so that it’s been possible in recent years to publish practically all his science fiction in two thick hardcover volumes, From These Ashes (the short stories, 690 pages) and Martians and Madness (the novels, 633 pages). (The “madness” in the latter title partially relates to What Mad Universe, Brown’s best SF novel, as well as one of his very best SF stories, “Come and Go Mad”, although it also qualifies as an ongoing Brown theme in some of the mystery plots as well.)

On the other hand, it might take an AIG bonus to pay for all of Brown’s out-of-print mystery, crime, and detective fiction; some of the 19 or so limited-run paperback collections devoted to the stories that were published in the 80s and 90s now sell on the Internet for close to a thousand bucks apiece, and a few of the novels are comparably pricey.

Probably the two best known Hollywood features derived from Brown mysteries are Screaming Mimi (Gerd Oswald, 1958) and Crack-Up (Irving Reis, 1946)—the latter derived from a 1943 Brown novella called “Madman’s Holiday” that’s now available only in one of those limited-run paperbacks that currently sells for $995 and $950 on Amazon, hideous jacket (see below) and all. Read more

Recommended Reading & Viewing (with qualms, 4/24/14)

 Directory of World Cinema Belgium

In today’s mail: Directory of World Cinema: Belgium, edited by Marcelline Block and Jeremi Szaniawski. Bristol, UK/Chicago, USA: Intellect Books, 332 pp., $31.95 from Amazon.


Discovered today on the Internet (at YouTube): 17 films by James Benning: five shorts (Two Cabins, Short Story, Two Faces, Postscript, Youtube) and a dozen features (Twenty Cigarettes, Ten Skies, One Way Boogie Woogie, Easy Rider, The War, Faces, After Warhol, Small Roads, Nightfall [see above photo], BNSF, casting a glance, Stemple Pass).  

In both cases, untold riches. Just for starters, the book offers countless reviews and essays by 38 contributors exploring multiple facets of a neglected subject, the first detailed account I know in English of all the features of André Delvaux, fascinating interviews with Chantal Akerman and Boris Lehman (including the former’s description of The Misfits as “a documentary about Marilyn Monroe undergoing a depression” and the “extremely accurate, just relationship” between people and space in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath), reflections on Jean-Claude Van Damme and “Belgium as Cinematic ‘Non-space’”. The Benning bounty includes five film that I’ve already seen and a dozen more that I haven’t . Read more