Daily Archives: February 26, 2023

Vigo’s Secret (L’ATALANTE)

From the Chicago Reader, March 29, 1991. —J.R.


**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jean Vigo

Written by Vigo, Albert Riera, and Jean Guinee

With Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté, Gilles Margaritis, and Louis Lefevre.

“What was Vigo’s secret? Probably he lived more intensely than most of us. Filmmaking is awkward because of the disjointed nature of the work. You shoot five to fifteen seconds and then stop for an hour. On the film set there is seldom the opportunity for the concentrated intensity a writer like Henry Miller might have enjoyed at his desk. By the time he had written twenty pages, a kind of fever possessed him, carried him away; it could be tremendous, even sublime. Vigo seems to have worked continuously in this state of trance, without ever losing his clearheadedness.” — François Truffaut, 1970

L’Atalante is one of the supreme achievements in the history of cinema, and its recent restoration, playing this week at the Music Box, offers what is surely the best version any of us is ever likely to see. Yet the conditions that made this masterpiece possible were anything but auspicious.

When Jean Vigo started to work on his first and only feature in July 1933, he had no say over either the script or the two lead actors. Read more

Notes on Oda Kaori’s ARAGANE (from Lisbon)

Originally posted on June 13, 2016. — J.R.

It’s embarrassing for me to confess that I let over six weeks pass from the time that  Oda Kaori sent me an email from Osaka with a link to her 68-minute film Aragane until I finally found time to watch it — during a day of rest in Lisbon, in  between professional  engagements. This has been an exceptionally busy spring for me in terms of writing, travel, and other commitments, but I suspect that another reason why it’s taken me so long was the fearful prospect of watching a documentary of that length about work in a coal mine in Sarajevo. I don’t know why this prospect discouraged me so much, but the fault is mine.

Kaori was one of the original dozen or so students to enroll in Béla Tarr’s Film.Factory when it started three years ago, whom I met during my first of my four two-week sessions there; she was also one of the students most affected by the films of Peter Thompson, whose email I quoted from in my article about Film.Factory, and whom I once lent a DVD of Maya Deren’s films at her request. I believe that Aragane was her thesis film; she has shown it at a few Japanese venues, including the Yamagata film festival, and she is hoping to find a distributor for it. Read more

En movimiento: Seeing Masterpieces Alone

Written for Caiman Cuadernos de Cine‘s November 2018 issue. — J.R.




The three best new films I’ve seen so far this year, all of which qualify as experimental, have all been seen by me without the benefit of an audience: Travis Wilkerson’s Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? was initially presented as a live performance piece, narrated by Wilkerson, and most people have seen Jean-Luc Godard’s Le livre d’image with English subtitles and a carefully arranged four-track sound system, but I’ve seen both films only on my laptop, without any such extras. And so far I’ve only been able to see the final version of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind alone in a screening room. In short, I haven’t yet been able to see any of these films as a physical part of any group, which means that any sense of my being part of an audience has to depend exclusively on the resources of the Internet.

Travis Wilkerson’s remarkable essay film about the murder of a black man by his great-grandfather in Dothan, Alabama in 1946 opened in New York half a year ago. I’m grateful to A.O. Scott for his enthusiastic review alerting me to this film’s existence, which made me forgive Scott for what appeared to be his blindness to the subtler forms of racism and class bias practiced by Woody Allen in the reviewer’s latest “troubled” ruminations about that overrated figure. Read more