Commissioned by The Chiseler, and posted there on July 4, 2020. — J.R.
My first encounter with Werner Herzog was at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 1973, where I first saw Aguirre, the Wrath of God in an English-dubbed version that included, if memory serves, a few Brooklyn accents in 16th century Peru. (This is why it took some rethinking and retooling before the film could be successfully exhibited in the U.S., in German with subtitles.) But what flummoxed me the most — in spite of the film’s awesome visual splendor and its crazed poetic conceits — was what Herzog revealed about the opening intertitle when I asked him about it during the Q & A.
The intertitle: “After the conquest and sack of the Incan empire by Spain, the Indians invented the legend of El Dorado, a land of gold, located in the swamps of the Amazon tributaries. A large expedition of Spanish adventurers led by Pizarro sets off from the Peruvian sierras in late 1560. The only document to survive from this lost expedition is the diary of the monk Gaspar de Carvajal.” Herzog’s cheerful admission: the bit about the document and the diary was a total lie, invented by him because he reasoned that people wouldn’t accept the film’s premises otherwise. Read more
From Projections 8, edited by John Boorman and Walter Donohue, 1998. Subtitled Film-makers on Film-makers, this issue of the periodic Faber and Faber publication was devoted specifically to what it called ‘criticism,’ spurred jointly by a brief declaration by Bruce Willis at Cannes in 1997 (‘Nobody up here pays attention to reviews…most of the written word has gone the way of the dinosaur’) and a lengthy essay by François Truffaut, ‘What Do Critics Dream About?’, introducing his 1974 collection The Films of My Life. As nearly as I can remember, I was one of the nine critics (along with Gilbert Adair, Geoff Andrew, Michel Ciment, Peter Cowie, Kenneth Turan, Alexander Walker, Armond White, and Jonathan Romney) asked to respond to these two declarations of principles. (I haven’t been able to find Truffaut’s essay online, but an excerpt from it can be found here: https://www.lostinthemovies.com/2009/04/what-do-critics-dream-about.html.)
If my comments about the Truffaut essay sound harsh, I hasten to add that I still regard his early criticism as seminal — perhaps even the most seminal that was written by Bazin’s younger disciples, as Godard, among others, has suggested. -– J.R.
I welcome the prospect of an issue of Projections devoted to `the art and practice of film criticism’, though given the present climate that circulates around film discourse in general — a climate at once pre-critical and post-critical in which the static produced by commerce tends to drown out most of the murmurs associated with criticism — I’m more than a little fearful about what results such an inquiry is likely to yield. Read more
1. Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)
2. Transit (Christian Petzold)
3. It Must Be Heaven (Elia Suleiman)
4. Flannery (Elizabeth Coffman and Mark Bosco)
5. Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz)
6. Conrad Veidt—My Life (Mark Rappaport)
7. Where’s My Roy Cohn? (Matt Tyrnauer)
8. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
9. Ad Astra (James Gray)
10. Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)