Commissioned by and written for the Italian web site 8 1/2, published in September 2017. — J.R.
When asked what I think about current American cinema, my first response is to ask another question: whose American cinema? Because given the splintering of both the audience and all the possible venues for what we now call American cinema, it’s no longer possible to describe it as a single homogeneous entity.
Perhaps it was always wrong to describe it as such, but when I was growing up in the 1950s, there was still an American cinema that appeared to belong to everyone. Today we have only a series of separate niche markets and venues that seem to exist independently of one another. For the sake of both clarity and candor, I should confess that from 1987 through 2007, I was the principal film critic for the principal alternative newspaper in Chicago, the Chicago Reader, which meant that I was professionally obliged to keep up with what was regarded, rightly or wrongly, as “current American cinema”. Since my voluntary retirement from that post, I’ve been a cinephile with no professional obligations, and my preferences in that capacity have been to systematically avoid films featuring superheroes, most horror films and war films, sports films, blockbusters, and most of the other releases mainly targeted for teenage and preteen boys. Read more
Filmmaker Azazel Jacobs calls this a story about stolen love and stolen identities shot on stolen film. He’s the son of Ken Jacobs (Star Spangled to Death), with some of his pa’s anarchic spirit, and because he apparently stole good 35-millimeter stock, he doesn’t have to worry that much about the story anyway. The slender premise — two guys are named Rodolfo, one of whom gets renamed Depresso by the girlfriend of the other — seems mainly an excuse to hang out with these people, and it’s a tribute to Jacobs’s skill that this is enough. He knows how to put air around his characters, pace their movements, and chart their interactions in various locations, and when the heroine starts dancing at one point, she’s so good that I wanted to cheer. 77 min. (JR)
Written at the request of Jae-cheol Lim, the editor of this Korean edition of Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (second edition, 2008), which was translated by Ahn Kearn Hyung and was published in late February 2016. Now that three copies of this hefty volume have just arrived in the mail (637 pages long, which is considerably more than the 449 pages of the original, apparently due in part to a different font size), this seems like a good time to repost the new Afterword. 2018 Postscript: I now regret including No Home Movie on my list, the only new selection I’ve changed my mind about. — J.R.
Afterword to the Korean Edition of ESSENTIAL CINEMA (January 2016):
The closer one comes to the present, the harder and more hazardous it becomes to compile a list of the best films. As I’ve recently pointed out elsewhere, one should consider the lengths of time between Jean Vigo’s death and the first appearances of Zéro de conduite and L’Atalante in the U.S. (thirteen years), or between the first screening of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 and its recent appearances on Blu-Ray (forty-five years), and it becomes obvious that the popular custom of listing the best films of any given year is unavoidably a mythological undertaking derived more from faith than from any secure knowledge. Read more