David, I appreciate your invitation to “shake hands and come out punching,” though I suspect our disagreements this time around may wind up having more to do with Steven Spielberg and Munich than they do with Terrence Malick and The New World. (See Edelstein’s top-20 list of 2005 films here.) Just to be contrary, however, let me start off with four agreements. Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, William Eggleston and the Real World, and Homecoming all belong somewhere on my own extended list of favorites — and I’d need an asterisk of my own for the penultimate title, David, because Michael Almereyda is a friend whom we share.
To be contrary in another way, I haven’t yet composed my full list for Slate —although I’ve already filed separate lists for the Chicago Reader (which will appear online on Jan. 6) and the Village Voice (which has already appeared online). With your patience and indulgence, I’d like to delay this ritual for another day or so, concentrating for the moment on the issue of what the four of us actually do for a living. Read more
This essay, a revised and updated version of my article “The Seven Arkadins,” was commissioned by the Australian DVD label Madman for their DVD of Orson Welles’ Confidential Report, released in 2010. — J.R.
Mr. Arkadin “was just anguish from beginning to end,” Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich in their coauthored This is Orson Welles, and probably for this reason, Welles had less to say about this feature — known in a separate version as Confidential Report — than any of his others, either to Bogdanovich or to other interviewers. Editing This is Orson Welles in its two successive editions took me the better part of a decade (roughly, 1987-1997), and one of the biggest obstacles I faced throughout this work was the paucity of specific details that Welles was willing to offer about this film. It was plainly too painful a memory for him to linger on, and he even spoke of being blocked in remembering certain particulars.
Broadly speaking, the features of Welles fall into two categories: those he finished and released to his satisfaction and those he didn’t. In the first category are Citizen Kane, Macbeth, Othello, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, The Immortal Story, F for Fake, and Filming “Othello”. Read more
As an avid collector of Hollywood musicals, I’ve recently been checking out which items in my collection with optional French dialogue also have French versions of the songs. My father used to teach himself foreign languages by reading translations of some of his favorite English and American novels (e.g., Light in August in German). It’s recently occurred to me that watching favorite Anglo-American movies with foreign subtitles —- something closer to reading a bilingual text —- might also be helpful, though watching a foreign-dubbed version undoubtedly helps even more when it comes to improving one’s speaking knowledge of a particular language. This is one of the many resources afforded by DVDs that most people ignore, myself included. Just as it never occurs to most North American DVD watchers to spend the minimal amounts of time and money needed to acquire a multiregional player and order DVDs from abroad, the linguistic extras available on a good many DVDs slip past most people’s ken because taking advantage of them lies outside their usual habit patterns.
In any case, once I started examining the fine print on the boxes of the musicals in my collection, I discovered that optional French dialogue is fairly common, though whether this includes French versions ofthe songs is something one can only learn by playing the DVD.Read more
This weekend the Gene Siskel Film Center launches “Merry Marilyn!,” a Marilyn Monroe retrospective, starting with two pivotal Howard Hawks features, Monkey Business (1952) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). The series will include most of her major films at Fox as well as Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Misfits (1960).
By coincidence Playboy this month is publishing a package of stories about her final days and death. The magazine is reviving the popular conspiracy theory that Monroe’s reported suicide in August 1962 was murder, the consequence of her secret affairs with John and Bobby Kennedy. If, like me, you’re less interested in how she died than in how she lived, the most interesting part of this package is an inexact transcript of the freewheeling confessional tape recordings she made for her psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson, a few weeks before her death. Greenson had asked her to free-associate during their sessions, but she found that difficult. Then she discovered that she lost her inhibitions when she was by herself speaking into a recorder. Shortly after her autopsy Greenson played these tapes—once, in his office—for Los Angeles County deputy district attorney John Miner, who like him was skeptical that Monroe had been of a mind to kill herself. Read more
Full disclosure: Gerald Peary’s 80-minute documentary accords me two sound bites — one near the beginning (about Manny Farber), the other towards the end (about internet criticism) — and one lingering look at this web site (specifically, my 2005 essay about Susan Sontag).
Overall I’m fundamentally in agreement with David Bordwell’s verdict about this film on his own web site, after seeing it recently in Hong Kong: “In all, For the Love of Movies offers a concise, entertaining account of mass-market movie criticism, and I think a lot of universities would want to use it in film and journalism courses.”
I’m writing this in one-sentence paragraphs because that’s pretty much Gerry’s discursive style and manner here, largely carried by the narration (delivered by Patricia Clarkson), for better and for worse. So — to expand my own discursive style here into two sentences, one of them fairly long — in the two or three minutes devoted to Manny Farber, unless you’ve already read and digested a couple of his key articles, you might wind up concluding that “termite art” has something directly to do with “low-budget crime melodrama,” even though snippets of Farber’s prose and a couple of lines from a late onstage interview are also included. Read more
This was written in early 2003 at the invitation of Nicole Brenez for a French collection that she edited, La Vie nouvelle/nouvelle vision: à propos d’un film de Philippe Grandrieux (Éditions Léo Scheer, 2005), and she uses the French translation of it by Aïcha Bahcelioglu to lead off the book; the volume also includes a DVD of the film. — J.R.
I’ve witnessed and partly experienced two massive surges of interest in avant-garde cinema during my lifetime. The first, centered on North American films during the 1960s, was spearheaded by Jonas Mekas and P. Adams Sitney in New York; the second, centered on films in both Europe and North America around the turn of the century, has been masterminded as well as celebrated by, among others, Simon Field at the Rotterdam Film Festival and Nicole Brenez at the Cinémathèque Française.
I was slow in appreciating the first of these movements, in part because it tended to draw up battle lines between believers and atheists and was not very hospitable towards agnostics; for all that it accomplished, it was somewhat alienating to anti-institutional types such as Jack Smith and more pluralistic cinéphiles such as myself, who had trouble understanding why Marcel Hanoun was the only French avant-garde figure since the 20s admitted into Anthology Film Archives, which also managed to exclude such figures as Godard, Resnais, Rivette, and Straub-Huillet —- not to mention Lang and Mizoguchi — from its pantheon. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (January 28, 2005). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard
With Sarah Adler, Nade Dieu, Godard, Rony Kramer, Mahmoud Darwich, Jean-Christopher Bouvet, Simon Eine, Juan Goytisolo, Peirre Bergounioux, George Aguilar, Leticia Gutierrez, Jean-Paul Curnier, and Gilles Pequeux.
Jean-Luc Godard has had a tendency to be combative and obscure. He’s a lot calmer and steadier in his latest feature, Notre musique, opening this week at the Music Box. He’s also been making an effort to express his intentions clearly and simply in interviews, including those with the mainstream American press. Yet some viewers will probably still feel excluded and puzzled by his methods as a filmmaker and his habits as a thinker, however beautiful and powerful the results.
Even if one can deal with Godard’s compulsive use of metaphor and abstraction and his Eurocentric perspective — all standard in much of his late work — there’s something morose and emotionally remote about this film. Around a sense of futility, a disenchantment with the world, he builds a kind of poetics that’s akin to some of the excesses associated with German romanticism. The issue isn’t whether such despair is warranted, but what one does with it. Read more
Although this 1960 movie is usually accorded a low place in the Marilyn Monroe canon — understandably so, because the comedy and musical numbers never quite take off the way they’re supposed to, and the central plot premise is more than a little labored — it deserves to be reevaluated for the intelligence of Monroe’s performance and the rare independence of her character; this one was made after her brush with Actors Studio, and she isn’t playing a bimbo. Yves Montand costars as a reclusive billionaire who discovers he’s being parodied in an off-Broadway revue; he tries out for the part himself, incognito, and she’s the chorus girl who helps him along. George Cukor directed, in ‘Scope, and lent a certain glamour and polish to the proceedings. With Tony Randall, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Frankie Vaughan (whose number, “Incurably Romantic,” isn’t half-bad), and bits by Milton Berle, Bing Crosby, and Gene Kelly; Norman Krasna wrote the querulous script. 118 min. (JR)
A.S. Byatt’s novella “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, adapted by Australian filmmaker George Miller (Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, Mad Max: Fury Road) with his daughter Augusta Gore, is a contemporary fantasy about a solitary academic narratologist (Tilda Swinton) who encounters a genie (Idris Elba) while attending a conference in Turkey, Many fairy tales-within-tales follow as flashbacks, cross-referencing A Thousand and One Nights, the myth of Cybele, and The Epic of Gilgamesh as well as Chaucer and Shakespeare. This not only juxtaposes today’s world with the kind of “timeless” language we associate with ancient sorceries. It also juxtaposes the enigma of how to arrive at the three wishes granted by a genie freed from three millennia inside a bottle with the issue of what it’s like to be that genie before, during, and after his entrapment. Because the narratologist knows that the three wishes granted usually end badly, she endeavors to learn more about the granter before she proceeds. What the ambidextrous Miller brings to this material is not only his two charismatic lead actors but a banquet of thrilling digital effects, arguably far more conducive to today’s consumer tastes than Byatt’s fancy prose.Read more
Elaine May’s hilarious, edgy first feature is her only one that differs substantially from what she intended. Her three-hour rough cut included two murders committed by the antihero (Walter Matthau), of a blackmailer and a crooked lawyer (Jack Weston), that the studio excised, yet A New Leaf registers with audiences as her sweetest, most tender picture. The irony is that Matthau’s character — a self-absorbed idler who exhausts his inheritance, then goes looking for a wealthy bride he can murder in order to keep his luxuries (and finding a clueless, clumsy botanist, deftly played by May) — is hardly the sort one expects to solicit such emotions, even without his two murders. But a specialist in creating lovable monsters, predators and innocents alike, May is clearly up to the challenge.
Reading Jack Ritchie’s short story “The Green Heart” that she adapted, included with the Olive Films Blu-Ray, clarifies the much blacker comedy she had in mind, achieving her sweet finale only after more challenging discomforts en route. And what she added to this story — such as the antihero’s Ferreri, butler, and uncle, and two potential brides preceding the botanist — may matter as much as what the studio removed. Read more
An obituary, written in February 2006 for Sight and Sound. — J.R.
Film history has always been at the mercy of technology and markets, yielding the brutal shifts from silent to sound pictures and from black and white to colour, as well as the reconfigurations of films on television. More recently, digital video and the Internet have ushered in a confusing transitional period that we’re still in the middle of, recasting our canons of films and film critics alike according to what’s available.
Improbably, most of Carl Dreyer’s major films —- which until recently were almost impossible to see anywhere in decent prints —- are now available in pristine form to anyone on the planet with a multiregional DVD player. Yet those of James Whale that don’t qualify as horror, including such 30s masterpieces as Remember Last Night?, Show Boat, and The Great Garrick, remain firmly out of reach. And the warm, mischievous, shy yet gruff, and dedicated critic who introduced me to all this and much else — Tom Milne, who died in Aberdeen last December — is barely known today because little of his prose has made it onto the Internet.
For those with backlogs of Monthly Film Bulletin and Sight and Sound from the 60s through the 80s, it’s hard to think of other London-based film writers during that stretch who wrote more cogently and passionately about film. Read more
This is the last of my lists of ten-best lists, in a series of six. — J.R.
Chicago Reader, 2005:
The World (Jia Zhang-ke) Not on the Lips (Alain Resnais) A History of Violence (David Cronenberg) Ten Skies (James Benning) Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki) & Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton) Yes (Sally Potter) & Capote (Bennett Miller) Michelangelo Eye to Eye (Michelangelo Antonioni) & Saraband (Ingmar Bergman) Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch) & Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July) The Girl from Monday (Hal Hartley) & 2046 (Wong Kar-wai)
Chicago Reader, 2006:
Cafe Lumiere (Hou Hsiao-hsien) & Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien) Army of Shadows (1969, Jean-Pierre Melville) & Statues Also Die (1953, Resnais/Marker/Cloquet) The War Tapes (Deborah Scranton) & Iraq in Fragments (James Longley) Cuadecuc-Vampir (1970, Pere Portabelle) & Warsaw Bridge (1990, Portabella) Find Me Guilty (Sidney Lumet) & Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck) Citadel (Atom Egoyan) & The Power of Nightmares (Adam Curtis) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones) & The Illusionist (Neil Burger) Ask the Dust (Robert Towne) & Hollywoodland (Allen Coulter) Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinéma (Godard) & My Dad Is 100 Years Old (Maddin) Fast Food Nation (Richard Linklater) & Bobby (Emilio Estevez)
Posted on Slate in late 2005. I’m sorry that the links no longer work. — J.R.
The New Global Movie Culture
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
Dec 29, 2005 4:52 PM
So many films and so little time! Consequently, I hope you’ll forgive me if I skate past most of the titles that we’ve all been citing lately and jump to some of the bigger issues broached by Tony in his first letter, and by David and Scott more recently —specifically, the transformations of film culture that are taking place these days thanks to DVDs, the Internet, globalization, and related pleasures, and conundrums.
In fact, David, I regard you as something of a pioneer in your inauguration of this Movie Club seven years ago. This helped to usher in the idea of critical exchanges in cyberspace that’s been developing so rapidly ever since that I find refreshing new instances of it virtually every day. The irreplaceable Dave Kehr reporting “from the lost continent of cinephilia” on his wonderful new blog and including responses from others is only one of the first examples that spring to mind. Another is the international, auteurist chat group over at Yahoo!, which has been around somewhat longer, where they’ve been raking me over the coals lately — and with a great deal of intelligence and pertinence, I might add — about my skeptical comments regarding Malick’s The New World, which I’ve been making in Movie Club as well as there. Read more
This is fourth in an ongoing series of five lists of lists.(Sorry that I haven’t been able to fix the format irregularities.) –J.R.
Chicago Reader, 2000:
The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami) Rosetta (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne) Beau Travail (Claire Denis) Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch) The River (Tsai Ming-liang) The House of Mirth (Terence Davies) The Smell of Camphor, the Scent of Jasmine (Bahman Farmanara) + The Child and the Soldier (Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi) Khroustaliov, My Car! (Alexei Guerman) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee) Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano)
Chicago Reader, 2001:
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg) Waking Life (Richard Linklater) The Circle (Jafar Panahi) ABC Africa (Abbas Kiarostami) The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (John Gianvito) Gohatto (Taboo)(Nagisa Oshima) + Chunhyang (Im Kwon-Taek) Yi Yi (A One And A Two…)(Edward Yang) + In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai) What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang) Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch) + Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff) Boesman & Lena (John Berry)
Chicago Reader, 2002:
*Corpus Callosum (Michael Snow) Platform (Jia Zhiang-ke) Y tu mama tambien (Alfonso Cuaron) I’m Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira) Ellipses, Reels 1-4 (Stan Brakhage) Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov) The Cat’s Meow (Peter Bogdanovich) Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (Jean-Luc Godard) Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes) 8 Mile (Curtis Hanson)
Chicago Reader, 2003:
25th Hour (Spike Lee) + Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi) Down With Love (Peyton Reed) In the Mirror of Maya Deren (Marta Kudlacek) Pistol Opera (Seijun Suzuki) The School of Rock (Richard Linklater) The Same River Twice (Robb Moss) + My Architect: A Son’s Journey (Nathaniel Kahn) Cold Mountain (Anthony Minghella) Masked and Anonymous (Larry Charles) + The Shape of Things (Neil LaBute) Oporto of My Childhood (Manoel de Oliveira) + Joy of Madness (Hana Makhmalbaf) All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green) + Sweet Sixteen (Ken Loach)
Chicago Reader, 2004:
The Big Red One: The Reconstruction (Samuel Fuller) Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood) Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembene) Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen) The Exiles (Kent Mackenzie) The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin) Before Sunset (Richard Linklater) Young Adam (David Mackenzie) Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch) Springtime in a Small Town (Tian Zhuangzhuang) Read more