From The Soho News, October 6, 1981. I’m embarrassed to confess that over three decades later, I have no recollection at all about Tighten Your Belts, Bite the Bullet apart from what I wrote about it, although I’m happy to report that the film is still in distribution, and available from Icarus Films. — J.R.
September 22: From a global or even a continental perspective, much of this year’s New York Film Festival belongs under the staunch division of Business as Usual. This basically means that the festival is involved in ratifying certain important discoveries (of ideas or filmmakers) that were made during the 60s or 70s, often by the very same members of the selection committee, rather than risking its self-image or self-composure in order to seek out many new challenges or talents.
This makes New York precisely the reverse of the more footloose, friendly, and unpredictable film festival in Toronto. There the specialty tends to be, rather, a flavorsome if occasionally warmed-over newness of look, sound, and/or signature: an underground movie about everyday life in the Watts ghetto (Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep), a corrosive and shocking black comedy about the mourning business in Israel in relation to war memorials (Yaky Yosha’s The Vulture), a flaky German film based on a French best seller about Proust by his maid, played by Fassbinder alumnus Eva Mattes (Percy Adlon’s Celeste).… Read more »
This was published as my ninth one-page column in Cahiers du Cinéma España; it ran in their January 2009 issue (No. 19). — J.R.
It’s by no means unusual for a “retired” film scholar such as myself to find more work as a freelancer since my retirement late last February than I did for most of the previous two decades as a staff reviewer for the Chicago Reader. Two of my contemporaries, both former academics and both friends of mine — the slightly younger David Bordwell and the slightly older James Naremore — have told me that they’re busier nowadays than they were when they were teaching. But what seems more surprising, at least to me, is how much of my time recently has been consumed by my participation in panels and symposia, both in print and in person, about the alleged death of film criticism. The October issue of Sight and Sound is full of ruminations on this subject, under such headings as “Who needs critics?” and “critics on critics”; so is the Autumn issue of Cineaste, where the stated topic is “Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet: A Critical Symposium”. A week from now, I will be flying from Chicago to the New York Film Festival to speak on a panel called “Film Criticism in Crisis?”… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (October 6, 1997). — J.R.
Another whimper from playwright Wallace Shawn about the fall of civilization — seen, as usual, more in terms of class than of intellect or aesthetics. References to such touchstones as John Donne and croquet contrive to suggest that maybe a little more than the takeover of the New Yorker by Tina Brown is at stake, but maybe not; the triumph of lowbrow vulgarity is perceived as the ultimate demise of mankind. Director David Hare films the play in its basic stage setting, three characters seated at a table, and trusts the pampered anguish of the material — the bemused and guilt-ridden but unquenchable sense of entitlement — to speak paradoxically for all of us. Mike Nichols, in his first screen performance, does a compelling job in the title role, his wide range of cartoon impersonations running the gamut from matinee-idol tics to scowls and nasal whines that evoke Shawn himself. Much flatter turns by Miranda Richardson and David de Keyser succeed only in flaunting the self-absorbed limitations of the play’s vision. If this is the way the world ends, I think I’d rather see it out with Schwarzenegger or Jim Carrey — anything but this dull pomposity.… Read more »