From the Chicago Reader (February 28, 1992). For earlier reflections on both films, go here and here. — J.R.
Directed by Jacques Rivette
Written by Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilu Parolini, and Rivette
With Juliet Berto, Bulle Ogier, Hermine Karagheuz, Jean Babilee, Nicole Garcia, and Jean Wiener.
Directed by Jacques Rivette
Written by Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilu Parolini, and Rivette
With Geraldine Chaplin, Bernadette Lafont, Kika Markham, Larrio Ekson, Jean Cohen-Solal, Robert Cohen-Solal, and Daniel Ponsard.
Dagger in hand, I scaled the heights of raw power, thanks to the male role that Rivette gave me. . . . This kind of sexual metamorphosis, this strange androgyny, never appeared in the French cinema before Rivette. After I performed the role of Giulia in Norôit I felt that I was capable of anything. Rivette changed my ideas about acting; for me, he is a kind of Mao and his films are a Cultural Revolution. — Bernadette Lafont in an interview, 1977
Though no one would ever think to call Jacques Rivette a realist, the fact remains that all of his first six features take place in a sharply perceived environment that can arguably be called the “real world.” Read more
From the Chicago Reader (January 28, 2000). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Cedric Kahn
Written by Kahn and Laurence Ferreira Barbosa
With Charles Berling, Sophie Guillemin, Arielle Dombasle, Robert Kramer, Alice Grey, Maurice Antoni, and Tom Ouedraogo.
“To think that I’ve wasted years of my life, that I’ve longed to die, that I’ve experienced my greatest love, for a woman who didn’t appeal to me, who wasn’t even my type!” This despairing reflection by Swann about Gilberte appears at the very end of “Swann in Love,” the longest chapter — a little over 200 pages — in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way. The chapter serves as a rehearsal for the even more torturous obsessive love of Marcel, the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past, for Albertine — a topic that practically becomes the novel’s principal subject over the thousands of pages to come.
This acknowledgment of the neurotic irrationality that underlies amorous and erotic obsessions is one of Proust’s key passages, and I was reminded of it periodically over the course of Cedric Kahn’s brilliant and hilarious new sex comedy, L’ennui. Yet one of the most striking aspects of the film — adapted from La noia, a 1960 novel by Alberto Moravia that I haven’t read (also the source for a trashy Bette Davis vehicle, The Empty Canvas) — is the way it confounds its Proustian model of jealousy and sexual paranoia with a dash of healthy common sense. Read more
The following is a chapter from my book Film: The Front Line 1983 (Denver, CO: Arden Press, 1983), a volume commissioned as the first in a projected annual series that would survey recent independent and experimental filmmaking. (A second volume, Film: The Front Line 1984, by David Ehrenstein, appeared the following year, but lamentably the series never continued after that, for a variety of reasons, even though both volumes remain in print.) I have followed the format used in both books.
It’s worth adding that De Landa abandoned filmmaking not long after this article appeared –- after planning, as I recall (but not shooting), a film starring his penis, to be entitled My Dick — and went on to pursue a distinguished academic career as a professor of art, architecture, and philosophy in New York, Pennsylvania, and Switzerland, with at least four books to his credit: War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991), A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (1997), Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (2002), and A New Philosophy of Society (2006). For this reason, I couldn’t originally illustrate this piece with any images from his films, as I did in Film: The Front Line 1983, until some frame enlargements were recently made from Incontinence,a month after this article was originally posted, by Georg Wasner of the Austrian Film Museum, to use in a catalogue for a retrospective that I programmed (see below).MostRead more
With Hedi Temessy, Erika Bodnar, Miklos B. Szekely, Pal Hetenyi, and Janos Derzsi.
One reason that Eastern European films often don’t get the attention they deserve in the West is that we lack the cultural and historical contexts for them. If Eastern Europe’s recent social and political upheavals took most of the world by surprise, this was because most of us have been denied the opportunity to see the continuity behind them: they seemed to spring out of nowhere. The best Eastern European films tend to catch us off guard in the same way, and for similar reasons.
My own knowledge of Hungarian cinema is spotty at best, despite the fact that, according to David Cook in A History of Narrative Film, the Hungarians “seem to have identified film as an art form before any other nationality in the world, including the French.” (One of the first major film theorists, Bela Balazs, was Hungarian, and a contemporary film studio in Budapest is named after him.) Read more
After hearing about this movie for most of my life because it was the last thing John Dillinger saw (on July 22, 1934 at the Biograph Theater — a movie house that was still in operation when I moved to Chicago in 1987), I finally caught up with it on TCM and am surprised what a good picture it is. However idealized the two leading characters are — a good-natured gangster (Clark Gable at his very best) and a principled lawyer (William Powell), childhood pals, both of them loved by a good-natured and principled woman (Myrna Loy) — the diverse changes rung on our sympathies remain complex and nuanced throughout. I hope Dillinger liked it too. The continuing ambivalence of the Chicago public towards him can be measured by the fact that a restaurant located next to the Biograph was named after him.
There are many other reasons for liking this movie. I put off seeing it for so long because it was directed by W.S. Van Dyke (or “One-Take Woody” as he was known at MGM), which led me to ignore the fact that the screenplay was cowritten by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, which I suspect helps to account for its overall intelligence.Read more
by Bill Krohn. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020. 312 pp., illus. Hardcover: $95.00.
Long overdue, this impressive if pricey collection by the long-standing —indeed, longest-standing — American correspondent for Cahiers du cinéma is eclectically divided into four sections. After an Introduction consisting of a new five-page memoir (“How I Became the Los Angeles Correspondent for Cahiers du cinema”),a fascinating 25-page interview with Serge Daney (then the magazine’s editor) from 1977, entitled “The Tinkerers”, and a brief 1992 obituary for Daney, one encounters “Directors Who Started in Silents” (ten essays), “Directors Who Started in Talkies” (seven essays), “Directors Who Started in Television” (seven essays), and “Directors Who Counterattacked” (ten essays).
These classifications can’t do justice to all that the book has to offer: even if one can puzzle out what Krohn means by “counterattack,” the first “director” he treats who “started in television” is Lucille Ball, justly celebrated for I Love Lucy rather than as a director, and someone whose career as a performer, as Krohn shows, actually began in theater, movies, and radio. But they do point up how original Krohn’s way of positioning himself often turns out to be. A Yale graduate who likes to apply some of the methods and lessons of Harold Bloom, Northrop Frye, Mikhael Bakhtin, and Roland Barthes to artists in (or just off) the American mainstream, ranging from Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock, and Walsh to Blake Edwards, John Frankenheimer, Monte Hellman, Phil Karlson, John Landis, Edgar G. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 2000). — J. R.
A chilling, mesmerizing, intense account of ethnic cleansing (in spirit if not in letter) from Hungarian master Bela Tarr (2000, 145 min.), set in virtually the same overcast, rural black-and-white world as his Damnation and Satantango (both also cowritten by Laszlo Krasznahorkai). As in Satantango, Krasznahorkai worked with Tarr in adapting his own novel — in this case the first to be translated into English, The Melancholy of Resistance, elaborately restructured here in terms of narrative sequence and viewpoint so that it’s mainly limited to the experience of a simpleminded messenger and artist figure. A decrepit circus (actually a huge truck) in an impoverished town displays the stuffed body of the largest whale in the world while spreading rumors about but failing to deliver a foreign prince. Eventually the unemployed male locals head for the local hospital like a lynch mob and proceed to devastate the premises. Krasznahorkai’s parallels with southern gothic fiction are as striking as those with other eastern European allegories, yielding cadenced prose as monotonously grim as Thomas Bernhard’s. The long takes following characters — the structural equivalent of the novel’s Faulknerian sentences, though the content recalls Beckett’s comedy of inertia — underline our easy complicity with these monsters, and the actors, including Hanna Schygulla in a welcome comeback, are riveting. Read more
A column for Caimán Cuadernos de Cine‘s September 2022 issue. — J.R.
For me, the most horrible implication of the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and in Uvalde, Texas is the suggestion that guns functioned for two alienated and tongue-tied eighteen-year-old boys as vehicles for their alleged “self-expression”, even though what was actually being “expressed” by them were only mindless replications of other nihilistic slaughters. In a country that habitually disparages or dismisses art in favor of its “entertainment” -– which is clearly why entertainers with zero interest in art such as Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump wind up as treasured ideologues — the potential entertainment value of guns can function as a handy substitute for art as a self-assertive kind of performance. This already tends to be the dramaturgical and discursive function of guns in the various forms of cinema that these teenagers accessed, which makes it only logical that it should become their own dramaturgical and discursive form of “self-expression”.
In other words, what la caméra-stylo represents for France as a form of art, la caméra-fusil represents for the United States as a form of entertainment — a form that basically mandates that the entertainer “shoot first and ask questions later” (whether this is done with a camera or in terms of military combat), if, indeed, questions are ever asked at all. Read more
THE LAST FRONTIER, directed by Anthony Mann, with Victor Mature (1955, 97 min.)
Spurred by the enthusiasm of Jean-Pierre Coursodon, posting in the chat group “a film by,” I follow his lead and also see Anthony Mann’s THE LAST FRONTIER for the first time, and I wind up basically agreeing with him: the film is a lot better than its reputation warrants (for one thing, some of the CinemaScope landscapes are breathtaking), and Victor Mature is especially good in it. In fact, it seems pretty clear that the fact that this movie has such an unfashionable cast -– not just Mature, but also Guy Madison, Robert Preston, and James Whitmore, which the relatively fashionable Anne Bancroft can’t quite offset -– has something to do with its apparently low place in the Anthony Mann canon. (The fact that the film has an imposed and unsatisfying ending doesn’t help either, but this is so perfunctory that I find it easy to overlook; Mann almost seems to glide right past it.)
Mature plays a Noble Savage here (a trapper who joins the U.S. Cavalry as a scout), and many people either forget or don’t know that he virtually began his career as a D.W. Read more
From the July-August 2005 issue (NLR 34) of New Left Review. I wasn’t entirely happy with the way this article was edited, which is why I haven’t tried to write for the magazine again.
An English translation of the first Daney collection cited below is scheduled to come out this July. — J.R.
Serge Daney, La Maison cinéma et le monde, Volume 1: Le Temps des Cahiers, 1962-1981
P. O. L.: Paris 2001
Serge Daney, La Maison cinéma et le monde, Volume 2: Les années Libé, 1981-1985
P. O. L.: Paris 2002
We could postulate three periods for the extraordinary flourishing of film culture brought about by the French New Wave: Before, During and After. André Bazin, of course, epitomized the first, as a founding editor of the Cahiers du Cinéma in 1951, a crucial contributor to auteur theory, and champion of postwar American films and Italian neo-realism against a stale French ‘quality cinema’. The Young Turks whom Bazin nurtured at the Cahiers — Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut, and the somewhat younger Luc Moullet — mainly defined the second period: teenage iconoclasts who picked up the camera to become the stellar practitioners of the following decades.
Serge Daney (1944–92), who started out as a disciple of the New Wave crowd and described himself as a Bazinian early on, stands as the most original commentator of the third period, which he helped to usher in and continued to redefine up until his death from aids in 1992.
From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 1989). — J.R.
Ron Kovic’s autobiography, which recounts his conversion from patriotic enlisted marine to crippled demonstrator against the Vietnam war, isn’t a very literary book, although it uses some very literary devices (frequent time leaps, switches between first and third person) to approach the intensity of the traumas it deals with. Oliver Stone’s well-intentioned but faltering 1989 adaptation, scripted by Stone in collaboration with Kovic and starring Tom Cruise, eschews this approach for an episodic linear plot that doesn’t allow us to see Kovic’s conversion develop with any complexity. (As he showed in Platoon, Stone knows a lot about fighting in Vietnam, but he knows much less about being an antiwar activist, which is equally important to Kovic’s story; the movie’s demonstrations tend to be as blurry and as cliched as its nostalgic evocations of the American dream.) Stone’s unfortunate penchant for psychologizing leads to a number of murky suggestions here, such as the notion that Kovic’s warmongering instincts were somehow tied to the refusal of his mother (Caroline Kava) to let him read Playboy. Worst of all, the movie’s conventional showbiz finale, brimming with false uplift, implies that the traumas of other mutilated and disillusioned Vietnam veterans can easily be overcome if they write books and turn themselves into celebrities. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (January 29, 1993). Since writing this, I’ve come to like Basic Instinct much more than I did. — J.R.
BODY OF EVIDENCE
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by Uli Edel
Written by Brad Mirman
With Madonna, Willem Dafoe, Joe Mantegna, Anne Archer, Julianne Moore, Stan Shaw, Charles Hallahan, Lillian Lehman, Mark Rolston, Jeff Perry, and Jurgen Prochnow.
* (Has redeeming facet
Directed by Louis Malle
Written by David Hare
With Jeremy Irons, Juliette Binoche, Miranda Richardson, Rupert Graves, Ian Bannen, Leslie Caron, Peter Stormare, Gemma Clark, and Julian Fellowes.
The pointed absence of scenes of sexual intercourse in such recent releases seemingly calling for them as The Crying Game, The Hours and Times, and Scent of a Woman is curious when weighed against a tendency in some other movies, including two that opened recently, to highlight transgressive or dangerous sex. In Body of Evidence it’s not only bondage and sadomasochism but sex leading to the male partner’s cardiac arrest, an effect the female partner may have intended. In Damage it’s not only illicit sex between an older, prominent government official and his son’s fiancee, who has incest in her past, but also the unconventionality of their couplings: they often remain partly clothed, and the positions they assume border on the pretzellike. Read more
If you were delighted by the euphoric cynicism about corruption in L.A. Confidential and Chicago (I wasn’t), you probably should make a beeline for Joel and Ethan Coen’s brittle farce about corruption in divorce proceedings, in which hotshot lawyer George Clooney and professional divorcee Catherine Zeta-Jones are too busy screwing each other in the courts to show much interest in actual sex. Buffing up a script they’d worked on eight years earlier with Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano, the Coens do an efficient job of stamping their signature grotesquerie on sumptuous Beverly Hills and Las Vegas settings and ladling on gallows humor and malice, sometimes with the verve of early Robert Zemeckis. Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Billy Bob Thornton, Edward Herrmann, and Richard Jenkins round out the gallery of cartoon fools. PG-13, 100 min. (JR)
The film essay, as opposed to the documentary, remains in some respects the most neglected of contemporary film genres, by filmmakers and audiences alike, perhaps because it is seldom acknowledged as a film form at all. The only recent mainstream examples that come to mind are the first two parts of Godfrey Reggio’s trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi (1983) and Powaqqatsi (1988). As an English reviewer remarked of Koyaanisqatsi — a film that, incidentally, owed most of its exposure to Francis Ford Coppola’s distribution — “Its vainglorious appeal as a ‘new cinematic experience’ is really to an audience that would rather be open-mouthed than open-minded.” I found its glib borrowings from the avant-garde so irritating that I had no sense of regret about missing its sequel.
On the other hand, the most masterful examples I can think of from the last two decades — Orson Welles’s F for Fake (1973) and Chris Marker’s Sans soleil (1982) — both flopped commercially in this country. And most of the other distinguished examples from the 70s and 80s seem to appear only on the experimental film circuits: Trinh T. Min-ha’s Reassemblage (1982) and Naked Spaces (1985), Chicago filmmaker Peter Thompson’s Universal Hotel/Universal Citizen (1986-87; available on tape at Facets), Jane Campion’s 1984 Passionless Moments (which showed at the Film Center last weekend), and Jon Jost’s Speaking Directly: Some American Notes (1973; also available on tape at Facets). Read more