From the Chicago Reader (December 12, 1997). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by James Benning.
I’ve been brooding a lot lately about the way in which many of the best movies around have been ravaged by “narrative correctness.” This is the notion fostered by producers, distributors, and critics — often collaborating as script doctors and always deeply invested in hackwork — that there are “correct” and “incorrect” ways of telling stories in movies. And woe to the filmmaker who steps out of line. Much as “political correctness” can point to a displaced political impotence — a desire to control language and representation that sets in after one despairs of changing the political conditions of power — “narrative correctness” has more to do with what supposedly makes a movie commercial than with what makes it interesting, artful, or innovative. Invariably narrative correctness means identifying with the people who pay for the pictures rather than with the people who make them.
Last year we had reviewers stomping on Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy and Tim Burton in Mars Attacks! for daring to move beyond their more lucrative formulas to try something different, though their crimes were crimes of subject and tone rather than of storytelling. Read more
The following was published in the Chicago Reader on March 25, 1988. Criterion’s edition of The Color of Pomegranates (see below) has prompted this reposting, even though a good many of the details, including the title, are now out of date. On a more timely note, check out the beautiful new restoration of Paradjanov’s long-unseen and very beautiful Kiev Frescoes, — J.R.
THE FILMS OF SERGEI PARADJANOV
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
There are few people of genius in the cinema; look at Bresson, Mizoguchi, Dovzhenko, Paradjanov, Bunuel: not one of them could be confused with anyone else. An artist of that calibre follows one straight line, albeit at great cost; not without weakness or even, indeed, occasionally being farfetched; but always in the name of the one idea, the one conception. –- Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time
After 15 years of enforced inactivity, the greatest living Soviet filmmaker is finally back at work again, but it’s astonishing how little we still know about him––about his art, his life, or even his name. You won’t find him in Ephraim Katz’s Film Encyclopedia or in the indexes of books by Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffman, or John Simon (among others), and as far as I know, no one anywhere has ever written a book or monograph about him. Read more
This was originally published in Cineaste in June 2003. To see a beautiful new restoration of Paradjanov’s long-unseen and very beautiful Kiev Frescoes, go here: https://kinonow.com/kyiv-frescoes/ —J.R.
It’s astonishing how little we still know about Soviet cinema in general and Sergei Paradjanov (1924-1990) in particular, and it’s possible that Soviet history has something to do with this —- a desire not to remember pointing to an even more basic desire not to know. Considering what a teller of tall tales Paradjanov was himself, it seems inevitable that he would only add to the confusion while he was alive rather than clear up most of the muddle. Writing about three Paradjanov features that were showing in Chicago 13 years ago, I noted that his name couldn’t be found in Ephraim Katz’s Film Encyclopedia or in the indexes of books by Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, or John Simon (among many others), and lamented that as far as I knew, no one anywhere had yet written a book or monograph about him. [2022: This is no longer the case.See, in particular, https://www.amazon.com/Cinema-Sergei-Parajanov-Wisconsin-Studies/dp/0299296547/ ] I was writing only a month after he visited the west for the first time —- attending the Rotterdam Film Festival, where I was fortunate enough to be present —- and this was only four years after he resumed work as a filmmaker following something like 16 years of enforced silence, either as a prisoner or as a director whose proposed projects since Sayat Nova in 1969 had all been rejected. Read more
A post on the Chicago Reader‘s blog, Bleader. — J.R.
Adolescent sex in Oberhausen
I’ve just returned from the 53rd International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany, where I was invited to serve on the jury of FIPRESCI, the international film critics organization. My work, apart from participating in a panel about the privatization of film experience, consisted of seeing the 64 short films in the international competition and, along with two other jurors (Oliver Baumgarten from Cologne and Alexis Tioseco from Manila), awarding one of them a prize. We picked Amit Dutta’s 22-minute Kramasha from India — a dazzling, virtuoso piece of mise en scene in 35-millimeter, full of uncanny imagery about the way the narrator imagines the past of his village and his family.
The Festival had 14 prizes in all, gave a total of 30,000 Euros to many of the winning filmmakers, and concluded with a ceremony that lasted well over two and a half hours. Part of what made the event interesting was the same default position that sustained me through the 64 shorts I saw: the notion that at a festival as genuinely international as this one, a certain education was possible, however limited, in how people in other parts of the world were living and thinking — all of which provides a potential context for better understanding some of the choices involved, conscious or otherwise, in how Americans live and think.