From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1975, Vol. 42, No. 500. — J.R.
W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings
Director: John G. Avildsen
Cert—A. dist–Fox-Rank. p.c–20th Century-Fox. exec. p–Steve
Shagan. p–Stanley S. Canter. p. manager–William C. Davidson. asst. d
–Ric Rondell, Jerry Grandey. sc–Thomas Rickman. ph–Jim Crabe.
col–TVC; prints by DeLuxe. ed–Richard Halsey, Robbe Roberts. a.d—
Larry Paull. set dec–JimBerkey. sp. effects–Milt Rice. m–Dave Grusin.
songs–“Hound Dog” by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, sung by Elvis
Presley; “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” by Calvin Carter, James
Hudson; “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry; “Bye Bye Love” by
Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant; “I’m Walkin’” by Antoine “Fats”
Domino, Dave Bartholomew; “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Lee Perkins;
“Mama Was a Convict” by Tom Rickman, Tim Mclntire; “A Friend” by
Jerry Reed; “Dirty Car Blues” (traditional), performed by Furry Lewis.
cost–Dick LaMotte. titles–PacificTitle. sd. rec–Bud Alper. sd. re-rec—
Don Bassman. stunt co-ordinator–Hal Needham. l.p–Bert Reynolds
(W.W.… Read more »
What an onslaught of deaths that week in late March, 2021: Morris Dickstein, Larry McMurtry, Bertrand Tavernier, George Segal….The latter prompted this reposting. From Stop Smiling No. 35 (its gambling issue, guest edited by Annie Nocenti), June 2008. — J.R.
“Trusting to luck means listening to voices,” Jean-Luc Godard reportedly said at some point in the mid-1960s. This has always struck me as being one of his more obscure aphorisms, and one that even seems to border on the mystical. Yet the minute one starts to apply it to Robert Altman’s California Split, released in 1974 —- a free-form comedy about the friendship that develops and then plays itself out between two compulsive gamblers, Charlie (Elliott Gould) and Bill (George Segal), and the first movie ever to use an eight-track mixer — it starts to make some weird kind of sense.
What’s an eight-track mixer? According to the maestro of overlapping dialogue himself, speaking in David Thompson’s Altman on Altman (Faber and Faber, 2006), this is a system known as Lion’s Gate 8-Tracks developed by Jim Webb, and it grew directly out of Altman’s ongoing efforts to make on-screen dialogue sound more real. Sound mixers would frequently complain that some actors wouldn’t speak loudly enough and Altman would counter that this was a recording problem, not a performance problem involving the actors’ deliveries.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 493). –- J.R.
Director: Michael Snow
Dist–London Film-makers Co–op. conceived and executed by—Michael Snow. In color. ed–Michael Snow. song—“Strawberry Fields Forever” by John Lennon, Paul McCartney. performed by—The Beatles. sd–_Michael Snow. l.p–Hollis Frampton (Man Who Dies), Amy Taubin (Woman on Phone). 1,538 ft. 45 min. (16 mm.).
A camera zooms across the length of an 80-foot urban loft, beginning from a distance approximating the camera’s fixed. Position — where most of the room is visible — and proceeding towards the four vertical double-windows, three intervening sections of wall space, desk, chairs and radiator on the opposite side, accompanied on the soundtrack by a sine wave gradually progressing from its lowest note (50 cycles per second) to its highest (12,000 cycles per second). The zoom mainly proceeds through a series of periodic jerks, between occasional shot changes, while the images pass through a variety of colored filters, film stocks, and qualities and degrees of processing (positive and negative)and light exposure (controlled by the camera, four light fixtures on the ceiling, and the time of day). It is interrupted four times by a visible human event, and during each of these the sine wave is overlaid with synchronized sound: (1) A woman and two men enter the room, and the former directs the latter to set a bookshelf down against the wall on screen left; all three leave.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin , September 1976, Vol. 43, No. 512. — J.R.
Director: Michael Snow
Dist–London Film-makers Co-op /Cinegate. conceived and executed by— Michael Snow. In colour. ed–Michael Snow. sd–Darvin Studio. with— Allan Kaprow, Emmett Williams, Max Neuhaus, Terri Marsala, Donna Aughey, Joyce Wieland, Louis Commitzer, George Murphy, Dr. Gordon, Liba Bayrak, Anne Scotty, Nancy Graves, Richard Serra, John Giorno, Paul Iden, Alison Knowles, Jud Yalkut, Susan Ay-O, Mac, students in the HEP program at Farleigh Dickinson University. 1,872 ft. 52 mins.
Alternative title—Back and Forth
The camera pans back and forth across an outside wall of a classroom while a man crosses part of the field. The pan resumes inside the classroom in a fixed trajectory, revealing an asymmetrical area including part of a blackboard and a door on a far wall, two pairs of windows on the wall closer to the camera, and desks in front of the blackboard; trees, building and occasionally passing vehicles are partially visible through the doors and windows.
Throughout, one hears the sound of the camera’s mechanisms, including a loud report at the beginning and end of each pan. Various cuts emphasise that certain parts of individual pans, or entire pans, or a number in series, were filmed at different times.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 22, 1994). — J.R.
** THE LION KING
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton
With the voices of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Moira Kelly, Jim Cummings, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cheech Marin.
Though it’s somewhat less entertaining than The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, The Lion King marks a welcome and fascinating shift in the Disney animated feature. It may be just a coincidence, but Disney’s new live-action Angels in the Outfield, a multicultural remake of a 1951 baseball fantasy, marks the same kind of racial and ethnic reorientation. I’d like to think that the widespread (and justifiable) objections raised by Middle Eastern groups to the xenophobic stereotypes in Aladdin have finally led to some rethinking by Disney executives about how to handle such ethnic material. If my hunch is correct, these changes represent not so much a kowtowing to political correctness as a more accurate reckoning of Disney’s stateside and international audience.
The issue isn’t exactly reality versus fantasy, because all Disney pictures are fantasies. In real life a white orphan isn’t likely to be adopted by a black man even if the white orphan’s best friend is a black orphan who comes along with the bargain (as in Angels in the Outfield).… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1976, Vol. 43, No. 504. — J.R.
Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox)
West Germany, 1975
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Ce r t–X. dist–Cinegate. p.c–Tango-Film. p–Rainer Werner Fassbinder. p. manager–Christian Hohoff. asst. d–Irm Hermann. sc—Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Christian Hohoff. ph–Mictrael Ballhaus. col–Eastman Colour. ed–Thea Eymèsz. a.d–Kurt Raab. m–Peer Raben. songs–“One Night” by Pearl King, Dave Bartholomew, performed by Elvis Presley; “Bird on the Wire” by and performed by Leonard Cohen. l.p–Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“Fox” Franz Biberkopf), Peter Chatel (Eugen Theiss), Karl- Heinz Böhm (Max), Harry Bär (Philip), Adrian Hoven (Eugen’s Father), Ulla Jacobsen (Eugen’s Mother), Christiane Maybach (Hedwig), Peter Kern (Florist “Fatty” Schmidt), Hans Zandler (Man in Bar), Kurt Raab (Barman Springer),Irm Hermann (Mlle. Chérie de Paris), Barbara Valentin (Max’s Wife), Walter Sedlmayr (Car Dealer), Ingrid Caven (Singer in Bar), (El Hedi Ben Salem (Moroccan), Brigitte Mira (Shopkeeper),Bruce Low (Soldier), Ursula Strätz, Elma Karlowa, Evelyn Künneke, Marquart Bohm, Liselone Eder, Klaus Löwitsch.
11,077 ft. 123 mins. Subtitles.
“Fox” Franz Biberkopf, a carnival sideshow performer, loses his job and his lover Klaus (who runs the show) when the latter is arrested.… Read more »
There’s a particular Parisian tradition that seems peculiar to French aesthetics involving a certain license to behave like a depraved lunatic and receive approval, endorsement, and other cultural rewards in return for this boorishness.(Many years back I tried writing about this subject, in a long review of My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud.) I suppose one very bourgeois way of describing this tendency would be to call it the aesthetics of self-indulgence combined with a gift for self-promotion, and though I don’t know French literature well enough to determine what poets might have established this trend (apart from such relatively modern figures as Baudelaire and Rimbaud), there’s no question that Jean Cocteau set down many of the terms and conditions of this tradition in cinema, along with the visiting Spaniards Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali — including, perhaps, a special talent for hustling up various forms of patronage.
Even though not all artists with these characteristics are French, much less Parisian, it could perhaps be argued that those who are commonly celebrated for these traits are typically appreciated either by French critics (Nicole Brenez writing about Abel Ferrara) or Francophile critics (such as Adrian Martin writing about Philippe Grandrieux, among many others).… Read more »
From Sight and Sound (Spring 1983). -– J.R.
Wayne Wang: Chinese structures and American economies
Opening with a rousing Cantonese version of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ which is all about inflation — the rising cost of tea and rice — Wayne Wang’s remarkable, offbeat Chan is Missing neatly combines its concern about what it means to be Chinese-American with the current economic crisis. Praised in these pages by Richard Combs after its appearance at the 1982 London festival as a film that ‘answers nothing, but in a way satisfies one’s curiosity,’ this black and white mystery, about two Oriental cab drivers searching for their missing partner through San Francisco’s Chinatown, has done surprisingly well since its U.S. release last fall, especially for an independent feature costing under $20,000. A strong review from the New York Times‘ Vincent Canby, coupled with careful handling by New Yorker Films, helped to turn the film into something of a commercial sleeper. ‘After the first quarterly report, we were already in the black,’ Wang cheerfully told me on the phone from San Francisco early this year, adding that the cast and crew members, who had originally been partially paid off in points, were already just starting to get proceeds for work done in 1980.… Read more »
Joseph McBride, a friend, asked me to contribute a list of some sort to The Book of Movie Lists (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1999), which he put together, and here’s what we came up with. -– J.R.
The 10 Best Jazz Films
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
What follows is a personal list of neither the best films on jazz (e.g., Jazz on A Summer’s Day) nor the best examples of jazz on film (such as the Fats Waller soundies or the 1981 Johnny Griffin at the Village Vanguard), but something more special and rarified: films in which the aesthetics of jazz and the aesthetics of film find some happy and mutually supportive meeting ground.
1.Black & Tan (DUDLEY MURPHY, 1929). Remarkable not only as an experimental narrative by the (often uncredited) main author of Ballet mécanique and as a radical political statement about to whom jazz belongs, but also as a ravishing, poetic marriage between the music of Duke Ellington and the poetics of death and orgasm. Only twenty-one minutes long, but the aesthetics of jazz and film start here.
2.When it Rains (CHARLES BURNETT, 1995). A twelve-minute miracle, and, alas, the only film on this list by a black filmmaker, this is a jazz parable about the discovery of common ‘6os roots via a John Handy album in contemporary L.A.,… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 20, 1992). — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Clifton Ko
Written by Ko, Michael Hui, and Raymond Wong
With Hui, Wong, Olivia Cheng, Ricky Hui, Maria Cordero, and Joi Wong.
KING OF CHESS
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Yim Ho and Tsui Hark
Written by Yim and Tony Leung
With Leung, John Sham, Yong Lin, Yia Ho, King Shin Chien, and Chan Koon Cheung.
Past, present or future . . . China will always belong to the Chinese people. — opening title in King of Chess
In this country there is probably no important national cinema more neglected than the Chinese — actually a transnational entity, as I’m defining it here, including movies from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. And probably no programmer in this country is more dedicated to making Chinese cinema known than Barbara Scharres, director of the Film Center.
I have to admit to a certain resistance to Chinese cinema in the past, and to Hong Kong movies in particular. It’s a bias shared by many of my colleagues, for reasons that are in part self-serving: if we were to suddenly acknowledge the importance of Hong Kong movies, we’d be forced to acknowledge many years of negligence on our part, and obliged to admit an embarrassing lack of knowledge and sophistication on the subject.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader in 2001. Reseeing, as if for the first time, in 2022, in its “original uncut version” on HBO, I like it even more, including its crazy ending, as a sort of Sternbergian fantasy overlay to Woolrich. — J.R.
A remake of Francois Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid — derived, like its predecessor, from Cornell Woolrich’s most perverse (and in some ways most interesting) novel, Waltz Into Darkness. Antonio Banderas plays a Cuban businessman who marries a mail-order bride (Angelina Jolie), then uncovers foul play even as he experiences infatuation at its most irrational and masochistic. This version is more sensual and atmospheric than Truffaut’s, and in many ways it’s a better film than its studio seems to think (judging from its nervousness about any reviews appearing before the film opened). It certainly retained my interest and sympathy — at least until the nonsensical ending, which looks as if it might have been imposed according to the voodoo science of test marketing. Written and directed by Michael Cristofer. 116 min. (JR)
… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 23, 1993). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Jean-Pierre Bekolo
With Serge Amougou, Sandrine Ola’a, Jimmy Biyong, Essindi Mindja, Atebass, and Timoleon Boyongueno.
I cannot tell a lie. I couldn’t follow all the plot details of Mozart Quarter — Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s delightful comic fantasy about contemporary sex relations in a working-class neighborhood in Yaounde, Cameroon — even after I saw it a third time. Some of my confusion was probably due to the subtitler’s effort to render part of the French African dialogue in American inner-city slang — an understandable goal, but one that sometimes sacrifices lucidity for superficial familiarity and occasionally produces outright gibberish. Another problem is that certain Western cultural artifacts have meanings specific to the oral story-telling culture out of which Mozart Quarter arises.
Yet this wasn’t an obstacle to my enjoyment of the film, which is playing five times this week at the Film Center; on the contrary, it operated more as an incentive. If the common liberal error in understanding non-Western societies is to assume they’re exactly like us and the common conservative error is to assume they’re nothing like us, any movie that confounds both sides is bound to have a few things to teach us.… Read more »
My 27th column for Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, formerly known as Cahiers du Cinéma España, which appeared, I believe, in their July-August 2012 issue. — J.R.
I have a habit as a critic that I suspect irritates some of my readers. When I find that my opinion about a new film differs substantially from that of the mainstream, I sometimes theorize that the reasons for this must be ideological. In this manner, I speculated that the immoderate fascination of other Americans with the mad serial killers of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and No Country for Old Men (2007), which somehow seemed motivated by a twisted identification with them -– and especially with the capacity and eagerness of these psychotics to kill innocent people without any compunctions — were related to the fact that these films came out during the first and second Gulf wars, when Americans were killing innocent people with no compunctions at all, and sometimes even exhibiting comparable displays of glee about this mindless activity.
More recently, I’ve been puzzling over the fact that Richard Linklater’s latest feature, Bernie, a masterpiece that has been clearly delighting many of the audiences that come to see it, was only released after many delays, wasn’t sent to Cannes, and has been doing poorly at the box office — a fate similar to that of Linklater’s previous feature, Me and Orson Welles (2011), another treasured project which took him many years to finance, and one also dominated by a remarkable central performance (Christian McKay as Orson Welles, Jack Black as Bernie Tiede).… Read more »
From the Santa Barbara News & Review, October 24, 1985.–- J.R.
The Man Who Envied Women, introduced by filmmaker Yvonne Rainer, will be shown at 8 pm Monday, Oct. 28, Isla Vista Theatre II, Embarcadero Del Norte. Free admission.
It doesn’t really do justice to Yvonne Rainer’s exhilarating The Man Who Envied Women to call it avant- garde — or even the best feature to date by New York’s most celebrated avant-garde filmmaker. To do that is to consign it to a gilt-eged ghetto presided over by experts. The fact that Santa Barbara is fortunate enough to be getting this movie in advance of both New York and Los Angeles — and with Rainer herself in attendance -– shouldn’tmean that we need any big-city explicators to crack the surface of her intellectual vaudeville. Admittedly, there’s enough theoretical discourse on display to choke a horse, and two actors rather than one (a favorite Rainer ploy) portraying the title character — a complacent, womanizing academic named Jack Deller whose second wife, a nameless voice, leaves him in the opening moments of the film. But the delightful thing about Rainer’s word and image salad is that its deliberate overload virtually guarantees that if we miss a particular gag or argument, we’ll find its near-equivalent lying in wait for us a few minutes later.… Read more »
From Sight and Sound (Spring 1987). –- J.R.
JOHN FORD: The Man and His Films
by Tag Gallagher
University of California Press/$35
‘I shall almost always be wrong, when I conceive of a man’s character as being all of one piece.’ Appearing at the outset of Tag Gallagher’s massive critical biography of Ford, this quotation from Stendhal serves both as apologia and as fair warning to readers hoping to find a unified portrait of its subject. Written over the past two decades, Gallagher’s exasperating yet invaluable compendium of diverse thoughts and data may lack the coherence of previous Ford studies by Anderson, McBride/Wilmington, Place and Sinclair (among others). Yet in its outsized efforts to do justice to the contradictions and complexities of the man and his work, it still offers a range of information and insight that dwarfs all competitors.
For one thing, Gallagher certainly goes beyond his predecessors in contriving to grapple with all the surviving films, most of which he arranges in four periods: The Age of Introspection (1927 35), Age of Idealism (1935-47), Age of Myth (1948-61) and Age of Mortality (1962-65). Believing Ford’s best films (Pilgrimage, Judge Priest, Stagecoach, Young Mr Lincoln, How Green Was My Valley, Wagon Master, The Quiet Man, The Sun Shines Bright, Mogambo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Civil War, Donovan’s Reef and 7 Women) to lie in all four periods, Gallagher is able to tease out a surprising number of threads that recur throughout the oeuvre.… Read more »