Yearly Archives: 2024

Bedlam (1974 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 490). — J.R.

Bedlam

 

U.S.A., 1946                          Director: Mark Robson

London, 1761. Attempting to escape from the St. Mary of Bethlehem lunatic asylum, commonly known as Bedlam, a poet named Colby is forced by Sims, the apothecary general in charge, to drop from a railing, and he falls to his death. Lord Mortimer and his ‘protégée’ Nell Bowen, passing by in a carriage, question Sims about the incident, and are assured it was an accident. After subsequently paying a visit to the asylum, Nell is appalled by the living conditions and Sims’ sadistic treatment of the inmates, and appeals to Lord Mortimer to make a charitable donation. But Sims dissuades the latter from doing so. When Nell joins forces with John Wilkes to turn the cause into a political issue, Sims contrives to have her declared insane and committed to Bedlam. Frightened for her safety — and securing a trowel from Hannay, a sympathetic Quaker brickmason, for protection — she none the less elicits the respect and loyalty of the other inmates, and when Sims locks her in a cage with a supposedly dangerous lunatic, she successfully placates her cellmate. Read more

THE NIGHT PORTER (1974 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1974, Vol. 41, No. 490. — J.R.

Portiere di Notte, Il (The Night Porter)

Italy, 1973

Director: Liliana Cavani

Cert—X. dist—Avco-Embassy. p.c—Lotar Film. A Robert Gordon

Edwards/Esa De Dimone production. A Joseph E. Levine presentation

for Ital Noleggio Cinematografico. p—Robert Gordon Edwards. p. staff

Umberto Sambuco, Dino di Dionisio, Roberto Edwards, (Vienna) Otto

Dworak. asst. d–Franco Cirino, Paola Tallarigo, (Vienna) Johann

Freisinger. sc–Liliana Cavani, Italo Moscati. story–Liliana Cavani,

Barbara Alberti, Amedeo Pagani. ph–Alfio Contini. co1–Technicolor;

prints by Eastman Colour. col. sup–Ernesto Novelli. ed–Franco Arcalli.

a.d–Nedo Azzini, Jean-Marie Simon. set dec–Osvaldo Desideri. m/m.d

Daniele Paris. cost–Piero Tosi. sd. ed–Michael Billingsley. sd. rec

Fausto Ancillai. sd. re-rec–Decio Trani. post-synchronisation d–Robert

Rietty. sd. effects–Roberto Arcangeli. l.p–Dirk Bogarde (Max),

Charlotte Rampling (Lucia), Philippe Leroy (Klaus), Gabriele Ferzetti (Hans),

Giuseppe Addobbati (Stumm), Isa Miranda (Countess Stein), Nino

Bignamini (Adolph), Marino Mase’ (Atherton), Amedeo Amodia (Bert),

Piero Vida (Day Porter), Geoffrey Copleston (Kurt), Manfred Freiberger

(Dobson), Ugo Cardea (Mario), Hilda Gunther (Greta), Nora Ricci

(Neighbour), Piero Mazzinghi (Concierge), Kai S. Read more

PLACING MOVIES, Part 3: Filmmakers (Introduction)

This is the Introduction to the second section of my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1993). I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few links to some of the pieces of mine mentioned here which appear on this web site. — J.R. 

PlacingMovies

I should begin here with a somewhat embarrassed confession about a methodology I have employed with increasing frequency, especially since the mid-1980s — the practice of recycling certain elements from my earlier criticism. On a purely practical level, it can of course be argued that very few people who read me in, say, the Monthly Film Bulletin in 1974 are likely to be following my weekly columns in the Chicago Reader two decades later, and that my pieces for Soho News in 1980 (to cite another random example) are not likely to have survived in the periodical collections of many libraries. But I still blush to admit that, in a hatchet job I performed on Donald Richie’s book on Ozu for Sight and Sound in 1975, I sharply reproached Richie for reusing the same phrases about Ozu again and again in his own criticism. This was written at a relatively early stage in my own career when I imagined other film buffs like myself going to libraries and reading virtually everything in print on a given topic; I didn’t really think through the implications of writing about the same films and filmmakers for different audiences in separate countries over many decades — as Richie had certainly already done at that point, and as I have subsequently done. Read more

Jews in Hollywood, Actual and Imagined

From the Jewish Daily Forward, October 9, 2012. — J.R.

Hollywood’s Chosen People:

The Jewish Experience in American Cinema

 

Edited by Daniel Bernardi, Murray Pomerance, and Hava Tirosh-Samuelson

 

Wayne State University Press, 270 pages, $31.95

 

The coeditors stake their claim in the first sentence of their Introduction: “This book sets out to mark a new and challenging path of the role of Jews and their experience in Hollywood filmmaking.” And to some degree, they live up to this goal, in a varied collection that tends to get livelier as it proceeds. But considering how slippery and elastic their definitions of “Jews” can be, part of their path strikes me as both familiar and questionable.

Fritz Lang, for instance, gets cited over a dozen times in the book’s index, but for me his inclusion is fully justified only once — in a fascinating article by Peter Krämer that charts diverse efforts over four decades to make a movie about Oskar Schindler that preceded Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List in 1993, many of them launched by Schindler himself, who had a lengthy correspondence with Lang about the first of these projects in 1951. Virtually all the other references assume that Lang was a Jew because of his mother’s origins—a default position held in spite of his being raised solely as a Catholic and apparently never betraying the slightest interest in identifying himself any other way. Read more

André Delvaux’s Buried Treasures

This was written in late 2012 and early 2013 for Film Comment, but this magazine’s editor at the time loved to improvise the contents of every issue at the last moment, and this article had already been edited, scheduled, and then pulled from two separate issues. For me, it had currency and some immediacy because of the release of a Delvaux box set in Belgium; from the editor’s more land-locked Manhattan perspective, it could be published any time without making much difference. Rather than run the risk of this delay happening a third or even fourth time over the remainder of that year, and because I believed that jonathanrosenbaum.com (now jonathanrosenbaum.net) may have had a larger readership than Film Comment anyway, I decided to make a last-minute editorial decision of my own and posted it there, originally in August 2013, forfeiting the expected fee for the piece. (Like all my other texts, it subsequently got transferred here half a year later, at jonathanrosenbaum.net.)   — J.R.

Part of the strength of André Delvaux (1926-2002) as a filmmaker is that, like the otherwise very different Samuel Fuller and Jacques Tati, he was already pushing 40 when he directed his first feature — having by then studied music, German philology, and the law, and also taught Germanic languages and literature before he became a pioneer in teaching film at Belgian state schools, where Chantal Akerman and Hitler in Hollywood’s Frédéric Sojcher (who has written a short book on Delvaux) were among his pupils, meanwhile playing piano to accompany silent films at the Brussels Cinémathèque. Read more

CRY MACHO

A commissioned review for Sight and Sound, published in their November 2021 issue. –J.R.

Texas, 1980. A year after firing him, rodeo boss Howard Folk rehires ex-rodeo champ Mike Milo to retrieve his son Rafo from his abusive mother in Mexico City. In a Mexican village on the way back, Milo teaches Rafo how to ride horses and becomes enamoured with a friendly widow. 

Regardless of what he may have intended in White Hunter Black Heart, Clint Eastwood’s neo-Brechtian, autocritical lead performance—Eastwood playing Eastwood imitating John Huston—remains one of his more telling gestures. It evokes Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe exploring the darker sides of their own charisma as Henri Verdoux and Lorelei Lee, though Eastwood’s minimalism gives him far less to work with (or critique). He musters even less at age 91 as Cry Macho’s Mike Milo, ex-rodeo saddle tramp–a much older, lamer version of Robert Mitchum’s Jeff McCloud in The Lusty Men, mauled by horses, bulls, and drugs and booze to kill the pain of their having landed on top of him.

Kidnapping 13-year-old Rafo in Mexico City from his abusive Mexican mother for his former boss, Rafo’s wealthy father, and driving the boy back to Texas, Milo finds redemption by hanging out with friendlier Mexicans and animals in the boondocks. Read more

Toronto 1982

Originally published in Artforum (December 1982). — J.R.

The Toronto Film Festival, now in its seventh year, takes place over ten days every September. Proudly dubbing itself a “Festival of Festivals,” it actually deserves that moniker a lot more than the New York Film Festival does, and not only because it shows about five times as many films. Insofar as its giddy pluralism derives from an overlap of disparate and even antithetical individual tastes rather than from a distillation based on committee decisions, Toronto democratically permits those attending to select their own festivals out of an overflowing mixed bag. This year, apart from the main standbys –- nightly galas chosen by festival director Wayne Clarkson and a large international selection by David Overbey, a Paris-based American critic – the multiple events included retrospectives devoted to John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, Brazilian and New Zealand cinema and Berlin underground director Lothar Lambert, as well as a superb new package by Kay Armatage featuring a wide array of independently produced work. While Armatage rightly pointed to many of her own choices as films that take risks, her fellow programmer Overbey, operating from a somewhat different set of preferences, should also be credited with selecting both of the films that wound up locking horns with the prudish Ontario Censor Board – Lambert’s Berlin-Harlem 1974 and Pierre Rissient’s Cinq et la peau. Read more

My favorite end-of-the-year poll

http://ojosabiertos.otroscines.com/la-internacional-cinefila-2015-las-mejores-peliculas-del-ano/

And here’s my own contribution, in English:

 

In order of preference:

Son-of-Saul-2015

1. Son of Saul (László Nemes)

jauja

2. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)

Ex-Machina

3. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

I-DALIO

4. I, Dalio — or The Rules of the Game (Mark Rappaport)

Journey to the East

5. Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang)

 

The adjectives used by Manohla Dargis to describe Son of Saul from Cannes — “radically dehistoricized” and “intellectually repellent” — pinpoint my own responses to The Hateful Eight, which proposes that we be entertained by a treatment of the human race as garbage to be gleefully fed into a garbage disposal, and I can’t even bring myself to sample the genocidal pleasures of the latest Star Wars spin-off. This year, I’ve refrained from participating in most end-of-the-year movie polls because I no longer feel either qualified or inclined to “keep up” with the industry’s market choices, but I feel that the art and moral intelligence of cinema as represented by my five choices are as vibrant as ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Read more

Vitalina Varela

Written for the Chicago Film Festival and the Gene Siskel Film Center’s week-long streaming of this masterpiece (April 24-30). — J.R.

Vitalina

Vitalina Varela

 

It isn’t necessary to have seen anything by Portuguese master Pedro Costa before encountering the title heroine here, but if you saw his previous feature, Horse Money, you’ve already met her—a striking, angry middle-aged woman from Cape Verde who finally found the money to fly to Lisbon to join her long-absent husband, only to discover that she just missed his funeral. Settling into his rickety, crumbling house and trying to come to terms with her grief, keeping company mainly with a semi-mad priest (Costa regular Ventura), she’s precisely the kind of person that the world and movies tend to ignore but Costa’s epic portraiture, so beautifully lit and framed that it becomes jaw-dropping, builds an exalted altar to her, inviting us to luxuriate in her hushed presence. Audiences tend to have an easier time with this dark reverie than critics because it takes us somewhere very special and respects us far too much to tell us why. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

horse-money-vitalina2 Read more

THE WIND WILL CARRY US

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). — J.R.

TheWindWillCarryUs-villagefromafar

 

This ambiguous comic masterpiece of 1999 might be Abbas Kiarostami’s greatest film to date; it’s undoubtedly his richest and most challenging. A media engineer from Tehran (Behzad Dourani) arrives in a remote mountain village in Iranian Kurdistan, where he and his three-person camera crew secretly wait for a century-old woman to die so they can film or tape an exotic mourning ritual at her funeral. To do this he has to miss a family funeral of his own, and every time his mobile phone rings the poor reception forces him to drive to a cemetery atop a mountain, where he sometimes converses with Youssef, a man digging a deep hole for an unspecified telecommunications project. Back in the village the digger’s fiancée milks a cow for the engineer while he flirts with her by quoting an erotic poem by Forough Farrokhzad that gives the movie its title, in a seven-minute sequence that figures as the film’s centerpiece, summarizing all its themes, conflicts, and power relations. (“I’m one of Youssef’s friends — in fact, I’m his boss,” the media engineer remarks smugly at one point.)   Read more

Erich von Stroheim on GREED

My thanks to Joseph McBride, who originally posted this text on December 8, 1999, at the tail end of an interview with Rick Schmidlin about his expanded version of Greed on a now-defunct website, CreativePlanet.com. I’ve omitted the Schmidlin  interview here, but hope that Rick’s version (as well as the original MGM release version) will become available in this country on DVD and/or Blu-Ray — releases that are scandalously overdue. — J.R.

Greedgold

In the June 12, 1927, Directors’ Number of the Hollywood trade publication The Film Daily, each of the 10 directors chosen as the leading directors of the day selected his favorite film. The following is Erich von Stroheim’s contribution:

Greedweddingbanquet

Erich von Stroheim selects Greed.

TheWeddingMarchposter

Of course, the picture on which I have my heart set the most at present is The Wedding March  on which I have been working the past year and a half, but inasmuch as this picture has not been released, I will only dwell on past performances.

Looking back over the few productions I have done and endeavoring to calmly and dispassionately analyze each, there is just one that presents itself to my mind as being worthy of classification in your “What I Consider My Best Picture — And Why.” Read more

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS

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). — J.R.

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS

StoryoftheLastChrysanthemums-Kabuki

storyofthelatchrysanthemums

Though not the best known of Kenji Mizoguchi’s period masterpieces, this 1939 feature is conceivably the greatest. (For me the only other contender is the 1954 Sansho the Bailiff.) And according to film analyst Donald Kirihara in his book Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), Mizoguchi himself regarded it “as a creative turning point in his career”. A film set in the 1880s that lasts 142 minutes and contains only 142 shots, it resorts to the more rapid editing style of Hollywood only when Kabuki performances are featured.

 

The plot, which oddly resembles that of the 1950s Hollywood musical There’s No Business Like Show Business, concerns the rebellious adopted son of a theatrical family devoted to Kabuki (Kiku, played by Shôtarô Hanayagi in his film debut) who leaves home for many years, perfects his art, aided by a young working-class servant who loves him but also dares to criticize his acting (Otoku, played by Kakuko Mori), and eventually returns. Read more

The World Is Not Enough

From the Chicago Reader (November 16, 1999). — J.R.

Thewordisnotenough

James Bond will return, says the closing title of this somewhat better than average 007 adventure, but the bottom line is that he’s never been away. The cold war may be dead and buried, but British intelligence needs to be kept busy, even if this means — as the script briefly and wittily suggests — creating its own enemies. With an appropriately imperialistic title (does it apply to the villains or to Anglo-American intelligence? does it matter?), a better than average director (Michael Apted), and locations ranging from Spain to Azerbaijan to Turkey, this keeps one reasonably amused, titillated, and brain-dead for a little over two hours. The principal Bond babes this time around are Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards, not counting Judi Dench as Bond’s boss; Bruce Feirstein and Michael France had something to do with the script (1999, 127 min.). (JR)

the-world-is-not-enough-christmas-elektra-and-bond

the-world-is-not-enough-james-bond-pierce-brosnan-sophie-marceau-robert-carlyle-spy-thriller-007-action-film-movie-review-2015-spectre Read more

Two Hack Reviews from 1976

Both these reviews appeared in the June 1976 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 43, no. 509). — J.R.

TheDevilsRain-poster

Devil’s Rain. The

U.S.A., 1975

Director: Robert Fuest

the-devils-rain

devil's rain

In a heavy storm, Steve Preston returns to his ranch-house on the brink of death, dissolving into a waxy liquid as he utters the name of Jonathan Corbis. His wife Emma subsequently disappears, and their son Mark [William Shatner] takes an amulet left by her (supposedly protection against Corbis’ power) and drives to the ghost town of Redstone. There Corbis [Ernest Borgnine], the leader of a Satanist cult, renders Mark defenseless by turning the amulet into a snake after Mark discovers that Emma his been enlisted into the sect. When Tom [Tom Skerritt], Mark’s younger brother, arrives in Redstone with his wife Julie [Joan Prather] to look for his family, Julie is captured and Tom witnesses a diabolical rite during which Mark, having undergone tortures, is initiated into the cult and Corbis is transformed into the devil himself. Tom returns to the Preston ranch, where Dr. Richards [Eddie Albert], a friend. of the family, explains that Corbis is the reincarnation of a 17th century witch betrayed by ancestors of the Prestons and burned at the stake, and that the Preston family has secretly preserved the ‘sacred book’ of names of people sworn to the devil which once belonged to Corbis and without which he cannot deliver those souls to Satan. Read more

Two Reviews of French Softcore Porn (1975)

Both of these reviews appeared in the July 1975 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 42, no. 498). –- J.R.

 la-bonzesse-movie-poster

Bonzesse, La

France, 1974

Director: François Jouffa

LaBozesseBored with her life, Béatrice goes to work in Mme. Renée’s upper-class Parisian brothel, where she is given the name of Julie and quickly initiated into the tricks of the trade. Flashbacks suggest that she was sexually abused by her stepmother, and grew up believing that the life bf a courtesan was glamorous. On her second day at work, she is attracted to a client, Jean-François, a wealthy advertising man who chooses not to have sex with her but asks her for a date that evening. She accepts and winds up living at his flat, but he repeatedly avoids having sex with her. In desperation, she resumes work at the brothel in the daytime without telling him, then leaves him one night to go home with her friend Martine and her boyfriend. As she gradually saves up enough money to fly to Ceylon — where she hopes to attain spiritual peace — she becomes increasingly depressed by the grotesque needs of the clients who come to the brothel, the jealousy of a fellow worker, and the overall sordidness and sadness of the place. Read more