Written for the January/February 2011 Film Comment. — J.R.
(Luc Moullet, France)
Although ostensibly a short essay inquiring how masterpieces are identified and proclaimed in several art forms (with various apt comparisons and wry asides), this is ultimately a 13-minute defense of the short film itself — the form in which Moullet himself has created the greatest number of masterpieces (and about which he has written often as a critic, most recently in the French magazine Bref). The finale is a presentation of Méliès’ most famous short, Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), with Moullet’s own brilliant audio commentary.—Jonathan Rosenbaum Read more
Written for Sight and Sound‘s blog in July 2011. — J.R.
Not exactly a film festival or a conference in the usual sense, Il Cinema Ritrovato has many of the benefits of each without their professional drawbacks -– namely the frantic boom-or-bust atmosphere promulgated by the entertainment press at Cannes, and the relative dullness and institutional oppressiveness of a long succession of academic papers.
A relaxed yet intense eight-day bash devoted to film restorations, Il Cinema Ritrovato is held over some of the hottest days of the summer in the oldest university town in Europe, and sponsored by one of film restoration’s leading institutions, the Cineteca Bologna, which boasts the rejuvenation of Charlie Chaplin’s works among its achievements. Frequented chiefly by teachers, students, archivists, programmers, film historians and various others involved with restoration (such as people working for various DVD labels), the events are usually split between three auditoriums in the daytime –- although this year a fourth screen was added, making for many more choices as well as conflicts -– followed by huge, free outdoor screenings for everyone in the Piazza Maggiore every evening.
Whether the individual attractions are populist (among the Piazza restorations this year were Nosferatu (1922) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) with full-scale orchestral -– and in the latter case vocal -– accompaniments, Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), the 1940 Thief of Bagdad and Taxi Driver (1976) or more specialized (some of this year’s retrospective subjects were Boris Barnet, Albert Capellani, early Howard Hawks, Elia Kazan and educational documentaries by Eric Rohmer, Maurice Tourneur and Conrad Veidt), the opportunities to reevaluate film history are plentiful. Read more
Written for the Olive Films Blu-Ray in 2016. — J.R.
[Orson Welles’s] desire to transcend the barriers separating the classics, the avant-garde, and popular culture remains, I believe, his most enduring legacy.
— Michael Anderegg, Orson Welles, Shakespeare and Popular Culture (1999)
It seems probable that no American film director ever rattled the American mainstream more than Orson Welles, and none of his features rattled that mainstream more than his two versions of Macbeth, made successively out of the same material he shot in 1947, and released successively in the U.S. in 1948 and 1950. Welles’ fifth completed feature, it was the first of many that would come out in more than one version, and the first that decisively shifted his public status, against his own wishes, from that of commercial studio director to that of arthouse auteur — a profile that would be deviated from only by Touch of Evil a decade later, the only other studio feature he would ever make.
Welles’ approach to the material is wildly neo-primitive and so expressionistic that one can never be entirely sure whether the action is taking place in interiors or exteriors; the same ambiguity persists in the spoken text, where off-screen internal monologue and on-screen external speech often seem only a breath apart. Read more