Commissioned by New Lines magazine the day that Godard died (September 13, 2022), and published by them without this title two days later. — J.R.
“He wasn’t sick. He was simply exhausted,” someone close to Jean-Luc Godard told the French newspaper Libération. But not so exhausted that he couldn’t confound his public, including his fans, one last time, by deciding to end his life by assisted suicide — that is to say, to end it nobly, willfully and seriously, even existentially, rather than fatefully and inadvertently.
Godard was hated as much as Orson Welles by the commodifiers who could find no way of commodifying his art, of predicting and thereby marketing his next moves as they could with a Woody Allen or an Ingmar Bergman or a Federico Fellini. And in the end he fooled us one last time by following his own path rather than ours. Was his way of dying a selfish act? Yes and no. It yielded an honest and considered end rather than an involuntary one; it tells us who he was (and still is).
I first encountered Godard’s work when I was 17 and saw À Bout de Souffle (Breathless, 1960) in New York. But I didn’t meet him in person until 1972, when I tried to interview him and Jean-Pierre Gorin in Paris about their co-directed Tout va bien (Just Great). Read more
Written for the U.K. journal Underline in July 2018. — J.R.
In mid-July 2018, I had the honour and privilege of helping to launch an ambitious lecture series in English at the Iranian National School of Cinema – at their attractive and comfortable new headquarters, built only a couple of years ago – by giving a week of daily two-hour lectures about film criticism. Other guest lecturers over the next several months will include Dina Iordanova from Scotland, art historian Marion Zilio from France, Dudley Andrew from the US, Jean-Michel Frodon from France, Paolo Mereghetti from Italy, Carlos F. Heredero from Spain, and Raymond Bellour from France. Several Iranian film critics will also be featured.
The hundred or so students who applied to enroll in this moderately priced series had to take an exam testing their knowledge of film history and their proficiency in English, and roughly a quarter of these applicants were accepted. This winnowing out of applicants proved to be quite efficient in yielding a group of students who were appreciative of such contemporary filmmakers as Abbas Kiarostami, Béla Tarr, and Andrei Tarkovsky and able to write the sort of English that communicated in spite of some uncertain grammar. Read more
My column in Cinema Scope No. 82, Spring 2020. — J.R.
On “A Melody Composed by Chance…” — an excellent new audiovisual analysis of Jacques Demy’s Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) on the BFI’s Blu-ray of the film, written and narrated by Geoff Andrew and deftly edited by this disc’s producer Upekha Bandaranayake — I’m grateful to Andrew for correcting the gaffe in my booklet essay claiming that the film’s offscreen ax-murder victim is the Lola (Anouk Aimée) of Demy’s first feature, who subsequently turns up in Model Shop (1969); in fact, it’s the much older Lola-Lola of Josef von Sternberg’s first Marlene Dietrich feature. The other notable extras on this release include “feature-length” audio interviews with Demy (by Don Allen), Michel Legrand (by David Meeker), and Gene Kelly (by John Russell Taylor), Agnès Varda’s essential documentary Les demoiselles ont eu 25 ans (1993), and a fact-filled, critically acute audio commentary by Little White Lies’ David Jenkins — I especially like the way Jenkins cross-references this film with Varda’s underrated Le Bonheur (1965), another film that posits dark ironies behind the Hollywoodish dreams it celebrates.
I find it astonishing, really jaw-dropping, that Midge Costin’s mainly enjoyable Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019),available on aUK DVD on the Dogwoof label, can seemingly base much of its film history around a ridiculous falsehood: the notion that stereophonic, multi-track cinema wasinvented in the 1970s by the Movie Brats — basically Walter Murch, in concert with his chums George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola — finally allowing the film industry to raise itself technically and aesthetically to the level already attained by The Beatles in music recording. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (September 5, 2003). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, Claude Lelouch, Youssef Chahine, Danis Tanovic, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Ken Loach, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Amos Gitai, Mira Nair, Sean Penn, and Shohei Imamura
Written by Makhmalbaf, Lelouch Chahine, Tanovic, Ouedraogo, Paul Laverty, Vladimir Vega, Gonzalez Inarritu, Gitai, Marejos Sanselme, Sabrina Shawan, Penn, and Daisuke Tengan.
It was probably inevitable that the terrorist attacks of September 11 were immediately seen as a blow against America rather than as crimes committed against humanity, the world community, or even just the people, many of whom were not American, who happened to be occupying three particular buildings. We deduced from the reported beliefs and intentions of the terrorists that America and what it represented to them was the desired target. But the willingness to privilege this vision over every other possible understanding of the tragedy may be dangerous. It even suggests a certain ideological defeat, because it has allowed the enemy to set the terms of the conflict.
The reflex is understandable. “Humanity” and “world community” are abstract. “America” is also abstract but feels closer to home. Because it’s familiar, it’s treated as if it were the only reality, as if it were, in fact, the world. Read more