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)
Commissioning a director from each of the 25 European Union countries to make a five-minute work displaying a vision of Europe sounds like a swell idea, but the result is more problematic: I’d hate to see these films and videos scattered to the winds as filler in state TV broadcasts, yet this 138-minute marathon (some directors went over the limit) is a bit of a glut. Still, it pinpoints what I like about Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki (facetious folklore) and Hungary’s Bela Tarr (an endless, sorrowful tracking shot) and don’t like about Peter Greenaway (a disgusted fascination with nudity) and the recently assassinated Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (crude derision). Other contributors include Barbara Albert (Austria), Christoffer Boe (Denmark), Tony Gatlif (France), Sharunas Bartas (Lithuania), Teresa Villaverde (Portugal), and Jan Troell (Sweden). In English and subtitled European languages. (JR) Read more
From the November 19, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and Kevin Yagher
With Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, and Christopher Walken.
Tim Burton’s new movie is gorgeous — shot by shot it may be the most impressive thing he’s done. So I hope I’m not being too disrespectful if I balk at the idea that his movie is based on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
I was an English major in college and graduate school, yet I can’t remember reading a word of Irving until I read this wonderful 180-year-old story a few days after seeing the movie. He may be one of America’s great writers, but apparently few people still read him, even though his prose is clear and vivid. Take the seventh paragraph of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” for instance:
“I mention this peaceful spot [Sleepy Hollow] with all possible laud for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great state of New York, that population, manners, and customs, remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved. Read more
Some images from the (partial) Italian and German restoration of Orson Welles’ The Merchant of Venice, about 35 minutes long, shown at the Venice Film Festival in 2015. The lost original, made circa 1969, was closer to 40 minutes in length. — J.R.