From New York Newsday (Sunday, August 28, 1991). -– J.R.
WOODY ALLEN: A Biography, by Eric Lax. Knopf, 384 pp., $24.
BY JONATHAN ROSENBAUM
How does one write the biography of an untouchable? Without touching him –- or at least by handling him with kid gloves. When it comes to dealing with America’s favorite comic spokesman for the urban middle class, Eric Lax does a fair job of plotting out both the apprenticeship and the career moves of Woody AIlen as he gradually worked his way up from gag writer to stand-up comedian to increasingly ambitious filmmaker (from “Bananas” to”Hannah and Her Sisters” to “Another Woman”), with various side trips –- as jazz clarinetist, playwright and literary humorist — along the way. But when it comes to separating the Woody persona from the actual person, or the mystique from the life, Lax’s agenda goes soft. Devoted fans may discover a few unmined nuggets here, but for skeptics like myself the experience is as unreflective as any of Allen’s movies.
After an introduction that briefly chronicles Allen’s tortured
23-hour trip to the Soviet Union in 1988, Lax begins with the
birth of Allan Stewart Konigsberg in 1935 and the creation of
his familiar stage name 16 years later. Read more
The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). I’m delighted that this prompted Adilkhan Yerzhanov to send me a very kind email along with a fresh link to his film. — J.R.
I’ve seen Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners (2014) only once, and if I dwell on my inability to see it a second time for this review, this is only to pay tribute to the issues and complications of ownership, which are so basic to the film’s universal relevance.
One year ago, I wrote the following as part of my bimonthly column for the Spanish film magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine: “12 June (Chicago): As preparation for serving as a ‘mentor’ to student film critics at the Edinburgh Film Festival, I watch online a film they’re assigned to write about, Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners from Kazakhstan. This is quite a revelation — at least for me, if not, as I later discover, for most of the students. Three city siblings arrive in the county to claim the ramshackle hut they’ve inherited from their deceased mother, and the tragicomic misadventures and forms of corruption that they encounter oscillate between grim realism, absurdist genre parody, and dreamlike surrealism, culminating in a doom-ridden yet festive dance in which both victims and victimizers participate….Yerzhanov’s Read more
From the Chicago Reader (January 14, 2000). — J.R.
This 1972 release is the most underrated of all Billy Wilder comedies and arguably the one that comes closest to the sweet mastery and lilting grace of his mentor, Ernst Lubitsch. Jack Lemmon arrives at a small resort in Italy to claim the body of his late father, who perished in a car accident, and there he meets Juliet Mills, whose mother died in the same accident and, as it turns out, had been having an affair with the father. The development of Mills and Lemmon’s own romance over various bureaucratic complications is gradual and leisurely paced; at 144 minutes, this is an experience to roll around on your tongue. Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond adapted a relatively obscure play by Samuel A. Taylor, and the lovely music is by Carlo Rustichelli; with Clive Revill and Edward Andrews. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, January 15, 3:30, 312-443-3737