The following text, a late addition to this web site, was copied almost verbatim (apart from the correction of typos) from the laptop of the late Peter Thompson, thanks to the help of his widow, Mary Dougherty. — J.R.
Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Talking to Strangers: A Look at Recent American Independent Cinema”, ARTPAPERS, Vol. 13, No. 5, September/October 1989, pp. 6-10.
The following article is excerpted from a lecture given on June 15, 1989 in Lisbon, Portugal, at a seminar organized for the Luso-Americanos de Arte Contemporanea at the Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian to introduce screenings of a dozen recent American independent films selected by Richard Peña and myself. Peña and Jon Jost also gave lectures at the same seminar — the former offered a broad history of independent filmmaking in the U.S., while the latter gave a subjective account of his own experiences as an independent filmmaker — followed by interventions from Portuguese critics.
It is virtually impossible to treat recent American independent film as a unified, homogeneous body of work. While there has been an unfortunate tendency in academic criticism to treat Italian neo-realism. the French nouvelle vague, or Hollywood films during any particular decade as if they had homogeneity and unity, such an effort can be made only if one views the work incompletely and superficially, and this is perhaps even more true with an unwieldy category such as American independent film. Read more
Written for Cineaste (I forget which issue).
Letters from Hollywood:
by Bill Krohn. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020. 312 pp., illus. Hardcover: $95.00.
Long overdue, this impressive if pricey collection by the long-standing —indeed, longest-standing — American correspondent for Cahiers du cinéma is eclectically divided into four sections. After an Introduction consisting of a new five-page memoir (“How I Became the Los Angeles Correspondent for Cahiers du cinema”), a fascinating 25-page interview with Serge Daney (then the magazine’s editor) from 1977, entitled “The Tinkerers”, and a brief 1992 obituary for Daney, one encounters “Directors Who Started in Silents” (ten essays), “Directors Who Started in Talkies” (seven essays), “Directors Who Started in Television” (seven essays), and “Directors Who Counterattacked” (ten essays).
These classifications can’t do justice to all that the book has to offer: even if one can puzzle out what Krohn means by “counterattack,” the first “director” he treats who “started in television” is Lucille Ball, justly celebrated for I Love Lucy rather than as a director, and someone whose career as a performer, as Krohn shows, actually began in theater, movies, and radio. But they do point up how original Krohn’s way of positioning himself often turns out to be. Read more
From the Soho News (August 20, 1981). — J.R.
Film India: Indian Film Festival Museum of Modern Art, through August 23
Buster Keaton Film Festival Lincoln Plaza, through September 19
Directed for Comedy Regency, through October 17
Honky Tonk Freeway Written by Edward Clinton
Directed by John Schlesinger, opens August 21
AUGUST 7: The first movie I see for this column isn’t a light comedy, but it sure puts me in a sunny mood. The prospect of a three-hour Indian film in Temil with no subtitles is a little off-putting, I would say -– wouldn’t you? On my way into the sparsely populated auditorium of the Museum of Modern Art this afternoon, I hear not one but two separate senior citizens crack jokes about what a nice opportunity this is for a nap.
And yet, just as Indian film buff Elliott Stein has predicted, I have surprisingly little trouble following the plot and action of Chandralakha (1948). The quaintly illusionistic charm of a black-and-white movie like this, about a good and bad brother vying for the throne in a mythical kingdom – with a large palace protected by a drawbridge –- is part of its primal pull from the beginning. Read more
Trevor Vartanoff, one of the frequenters of this web site, has come up with an invaluable gift to me and to others — an alphabetical master index of all (or almost all) the postings here, complete with links. “I found it useful,” Trevor just wrote me, “maybe you or readers will too.” (2021 postscript: sorry for the links here that no longer work.) — J.R.
12 and Holding
15th Annual Festival of Illinois Film and Video
2 Oxford Companion Entries (Albert Brooks and découpage)
2 or 3 Things I Know About Her
2001: A Space Odyssey
20th International Tournee of Animation
29th Chicago International Film Festival: Mired in the Present
4 Little Girls
84 Charlie Mopic
9 1/2 Weeks with Van Gogh
A Bankable Feast [BABETTE’S FEAST]
A Beauty and a Beast
A Bluffer’s Guide to Bela Tarr
A Breakthrough And A Throwback
A Brief History of Time
A Brighter Summer Day
A Bronx Tale
A Christmas Commodity: SCROOGED
A Cinema of Uncertainty
A Constant Forge
A Couple of Kooks [MY BEST FIEND]
A Cut Above [HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER]
A Depth in the Family [A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE]
A Dialogue about Abbas Kiarostami’s SHIRIN
A Different Kind of Swinger [GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE]
A Different Kind of Thrill (Richet’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13)
A Dry White Season
A Family Thing
A Far Off Place
A Few Eruptions in the House of Lava
A Few Things Well [A LITTLE STIFF]
A Film of the Future
A Fish Called Wanda
A Force Unto Himself [on Hou Hsiao-hsien]
A Great Day in Harlem
A History of Violence
A Home of Our Own
À la recherche de Luc Moullet: 25 Propositions
A Little Transcendence Goes a Long Way
A Lucky Day
A Major Talent [on SWEETIE]
A Man Escaped
A Midnight Clear
A Moment of Innocence
A New Leaf
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
A Page of Madness
A Perfect World
A Perversion of the Past
A Place Called Chiapas
A Place in the Pantheon: Films by Bela Tarr
A Place in the World
A Price Above Rubies
A Prophet in His Own Country [Jon Jost retrospective]
A Quirky Cowboy Classic [on THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA]
A Radical Idea [HALF NELSON & THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED]
A Road Not Taken (The Films of Harun Farocki)
A Room With No View [ORPHANS]
A Russian in Hollywood [SHY PEOPLE]
A Scanner Darkly
A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love
A Single Girl
A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries
A Stylist Hits His Stride (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND)
A Tale of Love
A Tale of Winter
A Tale of the Wind
A Tale of the Wind
A Thousand Words
A Time of Love
A Time to Lie (CROSS MY HEART)
A Time to Live and a Time to Die
A Touch of Class [GOSFORD PARK]
A Woman’s Tale
A World Apart
A Year at the Movies
A Zed and Two Noughts
A.I. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (January 6, 1995).
Many friends and colleagues have been moaning about what a bad year 1994 was for movies, but I disagree. The main issue, I think, isn’t so much how we feel about the same movies — though there are a few differences there, including in some cases where and when we happened to see them — as it is what we saw. If you’re lucky enough to be living in Chicago, you had loads of terrific movies to see last year, new as well as old, and if you didn’t see very many of them, it’s possible that you were looking in the wrong places — where the mass media was telling you to look. Because of their running times, my two favorite films, the seven-hour Satantango and the nearly 26-hour The Second Heimat, received only limited exposure, yet I refuse to accept the standard alibi of most critics who neglected to see them — that they were too difficult or esoteric for the general public. I found them easier to sit through and vastly more involving and pleasurable than such overhyped and overattended European monoliths as Germinal and Queen Margot, which to the best of my knowledge gave little enjoyment to most people. Read more
This appeared in the May 5, 1995 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.
The Last Good Time
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Bob Balaban
Written by Balaban and John McLaughlin
With Armin Mueller-Stahl,Olivia d’Abo, Lionel Stander,Maureen Stapleton, Kevin Corrigan, Adrian Pasdar, and Zohra Lampert.
Bob Balaban, a native Chicagoan who’s best known as a prolific movie and stage actor, has directed only three features to date. I haven’t seen his second feature, My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), which some people tell me I’m better off having missed, but Parents, his first, was one of the most auspicious debuts of 1989.
Despite the radical differences between Parents and The Last Good Time in terms of genre, subject, style, and tone, they’re clearly the work of the same filmmaker. Part of this has to do with a precise feeling for place and a profound grasp of what sitting alone in a room feels like, even when other people are present. The solitary character in Parents is a ten-year-old boy who’s living with his parents in tacky 50s American suburbia. The monstrous (if typical) ranch-style house where they live is seen basically just as the boy experiences it — an expressionist, wide-angle nightmare etched in “cherry pink and apple blossom white” (to quote the song heard over the opening credits) that matches his parents’ taste and hypocrisy. Read more
From the Chicago Reader, April 21, 1995. It’s lamentable that, although Black Girl is now available on DVD from New Yorker, the color sequence in it appears in black and white. (In fact, I only saw this sequence in color for the first time when I showed this film in a course on world cinema of the 60s that I taught in Chicago in 2008.) To see this sequence in color, order the film’s BFI edition from Amazon UK. — J.R.
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed and written by Ousmane Sembène
With Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Momar Nar Sene, Anne-Marie Jelinck, Robert Fontaine, Ibrahima Boy, and the voices of Toto Bissainthe, Robert Marcy, and Sophie Leclerc.
If you trace African film back to its first fiction feature, it is only 30 years old. Yet far from being underdeveloped, it begins on a more sophisticated level than any other cinema in the world. By some accounts Ousmane Sembène’s hour-long Black Girl was made in 1965, by others 1966, a characteristic ambiguity when it comes to African movies. Do you date them according to when they were made or when they were first shown? And given the scant and largely unreliable print sources that we have to check, how can we be sure about either date? Read more
From Cinema Scope #14 (Spring 2003). It’s interesting to note that many of the releases that I discuss here are still available, if not always readily available. All of my recent columns, by the way, starting with issue #40, can be found on Cinema Scope‘s web site. — J.R.
A FEW PRELIMINARIES. The word is still getting out about the riches that are currently available to cinéphiles owning DVD players that play discs from all the territories —- players that are by now readily available at affordable prices to anyone with enough initiative to go looking on the Internet. But it might be added that the number of previously scarce films that can now be purchased in North American Territory is already quite substantial.
Combine these two opportunities and you have the pretext for a new column, which will be devoted not to DVD players (that’s your problem) but to DVDs that are currently available. This will follow the capitalistically incorrect premise that once you move beyond your own designated territory, the world becomes your oyster and a different sort of place from the one that assumes that you’re necessarily trapped as a consumer by the choices offered within your own national borders. Read more
From the September 1, 1995 Chicago Reader. I was shocked to discover that this is the only Kelly Reichardt film I ever reviewed in the Reader. Having just seen the amazing First Cow for the first time, I can’t understand how I ever allowed this to happen. If you decide to voyage out anywhere during the coronavirus lockdown, you can’t afford to miss this mysterious mind-bender and the singular world it simultaneously creates and discovers. — J.R.
A canny, contemporary portrait of shiftlessness, this adept first feature (1993) by American independent Kelly Reichardt, set in the Florida Everglades, is about people so bored they jump at the chance to go on the lam — taking off even before they’ve committed a crime. Reichardt has an original sense of how to put together a film sequence and an effective way of guiding her cast of unknowns through an absurdist comedy of errors. With Lisa Bowman, Larry Fessenden, Dick Russell, Stan Kaplan, and Michael Buscemi. (JR)
A Critic’s Choice for the Chicago Reader (June 6, 1997). — J.R.
In an era when the only fantasies grown-up critics are supposed to validate are preschool ones, here’s a charming and decidedly offbeat adult fantasy-comedy (1995) from the stylish English director Clare Peploe (High Season). In the early 50s, around the time of Nixon’s Checkers speech, a magician’s apprentice (Bridget Fonda) who’s engaged to a corrupt and wealthy politician (D.W. Moffett) runs off to Mexico in search of a sorceress after witnessing an apparent murder. Eventually she links up with a couple of guys (Russell Crowe and Jim Broadbent) who have separate reasons for being interested in her magic. Adapted by William Brookfield, former film critic Robert Mundy, and Peploe from James Hadley Chase’s novel Miss Shumway Waves a Wand, this visual treat recalls the whimsical postwar fantasies of Lewis Padgett (the pen name of writing team Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore). The period flavor is witty and concise, the magic — which ultimately includes a talking dog and a man turning into a sausage — fetching and full of twists. (Fine Arts) — Jonathan Rosenbaum
This capsule review for the Chicago Reader is a way of mourning the untimely death of Berenice Reynaud, whose lovely book about the film offers a good sampling of her brilliant insights.
This remarkable and beautiful 160-minute family saga by the great Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien (Goodbye South, Goodbye, Flowers of Shanghai) begins in 1945, when Japan ended its 51-year colonial rule in Taiwan, and concludes in 1949, when mainland China became communist and Chiang Kai-shek’s government retreated to Taipei. Perceiving these historical upheavals through the varied lives of a single family, Hou again proves himself a master of long takes and complex framing, with a great talent for passionate (though elliptical and distanced) storytelling. Given the diverse languages and dialects spoken here (including the language of a deaf-mute, rendered in intertitles), this 1989 drama is largely a meditation on communication itself, and appropriately enough it was the first Taiwanese film to use direct sound. It’s also one of the supreme masterworks of the contemporary cinema and, as the first feature of Hou’s magisterial trilogy about Taiwan during the 20th century (followed in 1993 by The Puppetmaster and in 1995 by Good Men, Good Women), an excellent launch to the Film Center’s eight-film Hou retrospective, which runs over the next three weeks. Read more
From The Soho News (October 29, 1980). — J.R.
What attracted me to sign up in advance for a symposium called “Television/Society/Art,” put on at the Kitchen and NYU last weekend, was the opportunity to see and hear some old friends, encounter some new people, and maybe even get some new ideas (about what I should be reading and seeing, if nothing else): a bargain for the $10 registration fee.
Presented by the Kitchen and the American Film Institute and organized by Ron Clark, a senior instructor at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program, the three-day event inevitably threatened a few dead spots — particularly to a virtual videophobe like me, who largely regards the medium as a kind of wicker basket holding a few magazines that I’m neither interested in reading nor quite ready to throw away. On the other hand, the fact that some of the invited panelists seemed to share the same bias made me suspect that I’d feel right at home.
The symposium got off to a somewhat inauspicious start with the presentation of a lumbering keynote paper entitled “Television Images, Codes and Messages” by Douglas Kellner, a teacher of philosophy at the University of Texas’s Austin campus. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (July 2, 2004). — J.R.
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Linklater, Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke
With Delpy and Hawke.
“The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.”
But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
“O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time….
“O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.”
— from W.H. Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening” (1937)
Richard Linklater, like Wong Kar-wai on the opposite side of the globe, is a lyrical and elegiac filmmaker. In many of his films, as in many of Wong’s, the subject is time — the romance and poetry of moments ticking by, the wonder and anguish of living through and then remembering an hour or a day.
Future generations may look back at Linklater and Wong as poets laureate of the turn of the century who excelled at catching the tenor of their times. In Days of Being Wild and Slacker, Ashes of Time and The Newton Boys, Happy Together and Dazed and Confused, and In the Mood for Love and Before Sunrise they’re especially astute observers of where and who we are in history. Read more
To celebrate the release of Kino Lorber’s excellent DVD and Blu-Ray of Sternberg’s still-controversial and often misrepresented masterpiece, with many first-rate extras (and including both the 1953 and 1958 versions of the film), I’m posting this again. It first appeared in the January-February 1978 issue of Film Comment, with a few tweaks added in June 2010. I’ve also included, at the very end of this piece, a photograph of the real-life survivors of Anatahan that I found on the Internet. And to clarify the mimetic form of this piece, which has nine sections corresponding to the nine sections of Sternberg’s film, I’ve numbered each of those sections, for the first time.
This was written while I was teaching film at the University of California, San Diego and was able to study a 16-millimeter print of Anatahan that I was using in a course. This article was reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), where I added the following: “One of the critical commonplaces about THE SAGA OF ANATAHAN is that everything in the film with the exception of the ocean waves is artificial and created, and Sternberg has often been uncritically quoted as saying that the only thing he regretted in the film were these waves, precisely because they were not of his making. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 1995). — J.R.
This 1993 feature certainly has its flaws — including a wholly unnecessary literary quotation that appears on-screen at the worst possible moment — but it’s still one of maverick independent Jon Jost’s most forceful efforts to date, in part because it stars the most talented actor he’s ever worked with, the resourceful Tom Blair. Mainly known as a stage actor and director, Blair also starred in two of Jost’s best earlier features — as a wandering, jobless malcontent in Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977) and as a misguided, bullying real estate speculator in Sure Fire (1990). Here he rounds out a loose trilogy of Jost’s corrosive, speculative self-portraits by playing a more sympathetic and ostensibly less alienated character, the owner of a lumber mill employing 60 workers, though the consequences of his situation prove to be even bleaker — and this time they can’t be so confidently traced back to his own character. A tragic, beautiful, and mysterious film that alternates between all-American landscapes (many of them composed as diptychs) and an unraveling nuclear family, this is as evocative and apocalyptic as Jost’s cinema gets — a film full of unanswered questions that will nag at you for days even as it makes fully understandable the sort of feelings about this country that drove Jost into European exile not long after it was completed. Read more