Part of a booklet accompanying a Jim Jarmusch retrospective at the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, October 2001. -– J.R.
A child of the New Wave who spent time at the Paris Cinémathèque, was Nicholas Ray’s personal assistant on Lightning Over Water — and Sam Fuller’s costar in Tigrero [Mika Kaurasmaki] many years later — Jim Jarmusch has loved films even longer than he’s been making them. Signs of this love are fully apparent in his tributes to John Cassavetes, Fuller, and Robert Mitchum, as well as in a recent phone conversation I had with him about his selections of favorite films by others to accompany his own films at the Wexner Center.
I want to focus mainly on the pairings you’ve come up with. Why, for instance, show The Devil, Probably with Permanent Vacation, your first film?
I don’t really know. I saw The Devil, Probably a long time ago, and I’ve never seen it since. I remember it being about a young guy in Paris who’s suicidal. And it’s [Robert] Bresson. Before I saw this movie, when I used to go to Paris, I’d sit at the end of Île de la Cité, and I think that’s where the film ends. Read more
I’m afraid that going to see Monster’s Ball or Black Hawk Down for the purposes of this exchange isn’t even an option for me. Neither has opened yet in Chicago, and though the first and possibly the second got special screenings for local reviewers willing to go beyond Chicago for their 10-best lists, I feel my first duty is to address what Chicagoans can see in my own list for the Reader. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing Monster’s Ball because of my liking for Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry, but the very thought of going to see any war film for pleasure right now gives me the creeps. Though, come to think of it, I’d probably rather see Black Hawk Down than even think again about Audition, one of David’s favorites — a movie whose view of mankind, including audience members, is for me a lot bleaker than anything found in A.I.
On the other hand, like Roger, I could cite some first-rate movies that exist mainly on television, such as Spike Lee’s A Huey P. Newton Story (which I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival), even if it’s basically a record of a powerful performance by Roger Guenveur Smith, or Code Unknown, which I saw on the Sundance Channel (where it’s been playing for ages) on Christmas Eve, and which opens here theatrically next week. Read more
There is no such thing as film production. It is a joke, as much as the production of literature, pictures, or music. There are no good years for films, like good years for wine. A great film is an accident, a banana skin under the feet of dogma; and the films that we try to defend are a few of those that despise rules. — Jean Cocteau, 1949
Two events in the year 2001 changed my relation to movies — one public and momentous, the other private and relatively trivial. The public event, of course, took place on September 11, and for many Americans, myself included, it broadened dramatically what we mean when we say “us.” It changed the way we see the world as well as the U.S., and for me the change in the way we see the world was more important. Some of my compatriots may still not be able to move mentally beyond this country, even theoretically; others may be considering the possibility for the first time. I saw better than ever the role movies can play in helping us understand the world from other perspectives, and the sudden outpouring of interest in films about Afghanistan — most notably Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin and Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Kandahar — was only the most obvious sign that this is happening. Read more
A pretty good English documentary about the 26-month life span of the Sex Pistols, by Julien Temple, who tries to correct some of the false impressions left by his first feature, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, which was made 20 years ago and privileged the role played by the punk band’s manager, Malcolm McLaren. For my taste, this corrected version has way too many clips from Laurence Olivier’s Richard III. I also would have enjoyed more animated material, since what we have is loads of fun. The period ambience (call it funk) is irresistible, but the main points of interest here are sociological rather than musical. 108 min. (JR)
This final chapter in my book Discovering Orson Welles is a lecture delivered in Valencia, Spain, on November 17, 2005, at a conference, “Don Quixote and the Cinema,” held at San Miguel de los Reyes, a convent built during the seventeenth century, making it roughly contemporary with Cervantes’s novel. The same building was used as a prison during the Franco era and functions today as a municipal library, Biblioteca Valenciana.
Given my virtually nonexistent grasp of spoken Spanish, I regretted that the event wasn’t more international; as far as I know, my paper was the only one requiring the services of a translator. The only other non-Spanish participants in the three-day event were a French man and an Italian woman, both of whom seemed to be fluent in the language.
Thanks to the generosity of the conference’s organizer, Carlos F. Heredero (the cowriter of Orson Welles en el País de Don Quijote, cited in my introduction to chapter 15, and an academic scholar and critic whose specialties include Spanish cinema and Wong Kar-wai), I was able to route my trip to Spain through Madrid before the conference and then briefly through Barcelona afterwards. In Madrid I made arrangements to spend three days at the Filmoteca Española looking at the Quixote material mentioned in chapters 19 and 20, but I was severely disappointed to discover that the ten hours I’d arranged to see mainly consisted of material from the TV series Nella Terra di Don Chisiotte and/or bits and pieces of what might be called the wreckage left by Jesus Franco’s disposal of the other footage, not including anything shot in Mexico.Read more
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (with Wim Wenders)
Written by Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, and Wenders
With John Malkovich, Ines Sastre, Kim Rossi-Stuart, Sophie Marceau, Chiara Caselli, Peter Weller, Fanny Ardant, Jean Reno, Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni, Irene Jacob, and Vincent Perez.
Chicago has had a plethora of film festivals lately — Women in the Director’s Chair, Polish Movie Springtime, Chicago Latino Film Festival, the Asian American Showcase. This is probably good for filmmakers who want their work shown, but I’m not sure it’s a boon for moviegoers. For one thing, the screening of so many films at once makes it easy for good work to get lost. Billions of dollars are now spent annually making and promoting a few dozen movies — most of them dogs — that the media obligingly make visible and label important, and everything else is consigned to relative oblivion. The most any obscure film can hope for — good or bad, major or minor — is to compete with all the other obscure films. This is tantamount to tripling the number of passengers in steerage without increasing the provisions: more people get to travel, but everyone gets brutalized in the process. Read more
To no one’s surprise but the producer’s, Robert Rodriguez’s bigger-budget spin-off/remake of (and occasional sequel to) his impressive action quickie El mariachi doesn’t stand comparison with its predecessor. On the other hand, Rodriguez is clearly a talent to watch, and there’s plenty to be entertained or impressed by here — fancy, violent action sequences (which gradually develop from barroom shoot-outs to outright war battles); a feisty interaction between hero (Antonio Banderas) and heroine (Salma Hayek) that suggests the influence of Howard Hawks; some enjoyable actorly bits by Cheech Marin, Quentin Tarantino (who’s at least around long enough to tell a funny joke), and Steve Buscemi; an enjoyable villain (Joaquim de Almeida, not a gringo here as he was in El mariachi); a nice Mexican score by Los Lobos; and even a halfway tolerable twist in the plot. What’s mainly missing is the sort of conviction and passion that gave El mariachi its charge; one feels at almost every moment that Rodriguez is fulfilling a contract rather than saying something he has to say. There’s a lot of panache here, but not much inspiration. (JR)
From The Guardian (June 6, 2003). Happily, Fei Mu’s 1948 masterpiece is now available on a decent DVD with English subtitles from the BFI, and I’ve recently written a lengthy essay about it for the final issue of the French quarterrly Trafic, to be published in French this fall and on this site in English around the sane time..– J.R.
If I had to pinpoint what makes so much of contemporary life intolerable, something I’d call remake mentality might head the top of the list. The mindset that dictates that anything new has to be a recycling of something familiar — that old markets be exhausted before any new ones are contemplated, and that viewers be regarded as mindless brats demanding only more of the same — is so common by now that it has become fully internalised, and not only within the film industry.
The fact that we’re supposed to be looking forward to two sequels to The Matrix in the same year implies that we are fixed marketing units, programmed to relish staying in our well-appointed ruts. But there are just as many spinoffs predicated on our ignorance of the originals, suggesting that the avoidance of fresh thinking may not simply be our own. Read more
It’s fitting that the most existential of plays should function as a kind of test, and fortunate that the first Michael Almereyda picture to get full mainstream exposure should also turn out to be his best to date. But what’s being tested isn’t either Shakespeare or Almereyda but the present moment: that is, the film asks how and how much we’re capable of living in the world Shakespeare wrote about. Wittily and tragically updating the play’s action to corporate America in general and New York in particular, Almereyda is no Orson Welles, but he begins to seem like one when he’s castigated for not doing his Shakespeare like Kenneth Branagh; the censure recalls all the times square and professional Laurence Olivier was used as a reproach to Welles’s hip “amateurism.” This is gloriously amateurish, the way all of Almereyda’s best movies are, so it’s rewarding to see how Julia Stiles’s Ophelia harks back to Suzy Amis in Almereyda’s Twister, how some of the intimate interiors recall Another Girl Another Planet (his second-best movie), and how the use of video as a kind of Greek chorus to the action, an Almereyda specialty, bears special fruit in a postmodernist climate where “To be or not to be” is recited in the action section of a Blockbuster and Hamlet (Ethan Hawke, better than you’d expect) lards his video production of The Mousetrap with all sorts of found footage. Read more
Two new British Film Institute digital releases related to Orson Welles, both due out later this month, arrived in my mailbox yesterday, the day after I submitted my Fall DVD column to Cinema Scope —Around the World with Orson Welles (1955) on Blu-Ray and Chuck Workman’s 2014 Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles on DVD. In their very different ways, both are worthy items that are well worth having, which is largely why I’m posting something about them here.
Around the World with Orson Welles is a shamefully neglected TV series directed by Welles of six half-hour episodes, made around the same time as Mr. Arkadin (for the same French producer, Louis Dolivet), with a remarkable range of topics including Basque culture (two episodes), Vienna coffee houses and pastry, the bohemian avant-garde in Paris (including a reading of Lettrist poetry: see still below), London pensioners, and the Spanish bullfight (with Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Tynan as cohosts); a seventh episode — the first to be shot, but never completed — was an investigative crime report set in the French provinces, The Dominici Affair, and an English version of Christophe Cognet’s 52-minute, 2000 French documentary about this project is one of the two extras included. Read more
Last month Alexander Horwath, director of the Austrian Film Museum, sent me a press release about an ambitious and audacious retrospective he’s presenting throughout November entitled “Notre Musique,” devoted to “forty major works of fictional and documentary cinema made between 2000 and 2006.” “Film museums are often — and justifiably — viewed as places where an awareness of the historic foundations of contemporary cinema can evolve,” he begins. “Yet a reverse perspective is equally important — an approach to film history that is open to the present.” His selection, he adds, “is not so much influenced by the best-known or `most-discussed’ films of recent years but rather by the unbroken capacity of cinema to bear witness to life on this planet [his emphasis] — not just in the sense of documentation but also as an illumination of circumstances that habor a potential for change.” What he’s put together, in short, is a group of films that are supposed to bear witness, politically and responsibly, to the present moment — a daring gesture if one considers Jacques Rivette’s plausible statement in a Cahiers du Cinéma roundtable over 40 years ago, that it’s virtually impossible for a critic to know the long-term value of a film when it first appears.
From the May 26, 2000 Chicago Reader. I must confess that I’m embarrassed by most of my other reviews of Claire Denis films on this site. Writing from the Trumsoe International Film Festival in Norway, where I resaw many of her films at a retrospective, I discovered how they invariably seem to improve on repeated viewings. (I also reprinted this piece on Beau Travail in Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition.)
Part of what’s both great and difficult about Denis’ films has been discussed perceptively by the late Robin Wood in one of his last great pieces, about I Can’t Sleep. And part of what I think is so remarkable about Claire, one of my favorite people, is a trait she shares with the late Sam Fuller, which might be described as the reverse of the cynicism of the jaundiced leftist who loves humanity but hates people. Fuller and Denis both show very dark, pessimistic, and even despairing views of humanity in their films, but their love of people and of life is no less constant. (Jim Jarmusch shows a bit of the same ambivalence in some of his edgier films, such as Dead Man, Ghost Dog, The Limits of Control, and Paterson.)Read more
Once again, I discover that the best movie of 2023 is one that I couldn’t see in 2023. It’s a first feature by a Vietnamese writer-director, Phạm Thiên Ân. It won the camera d’or in Cannes, and is so stunningly original that that itseems to have reinvented cinema on its own terms. At the same time, it illustrates Robert Bresson’s maxim that it took the advent of sound cinema to give us silence whiledemonstrating Raoul Ruiz’s contention that drama doesn’t have to be based on conflict. As the film’s title suggests, the struggle (or journey) of the young hero (Lê Phong Vũ) is internal, so it seems natural that his dreams and memories are often indistinguishable from his other activities.
A three-hour film that feels like a meditative bath without ever becoming in the least bit dull, Inside the YellowCocoon Shell proposes a psychic adventure in which butterflies are able toblossom, like the baby wrapped in a yellow blanket that the hero holds, and like the hero himself when he lies down in a stream.
If the above description sounds pretentious, the fault is mine, not the film’s.The best films often turn out to be the ones that challenge whatever we might want to say about them.Read more
With Emily Watson, Dermot Mulroney, Nick Nolte, Nathan Lane, Brittany Murphy, Lesley Ann Warren, Will Patton, and Stephen Lang.
[Trixie] is propelled by this need in her own personality to accomplish something and find the truth. But of course, the truth doesn’t exist anymore. The truth now seems to be whatever gets the most applause. — Alan Rudolph in an interview
Alan Rudolph’s previous feature, Breakfast of Champions (1999), probably his best since Choose Me (1984), is an abrasive, angry, formally imaginative, and generally faithful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s book of the same name. It has a lot going for it, including Bruce Willis, who helped finance it, as a blustering car dealer, one of his best performances to date; Barbara Hershey as his pill-popping wife; Nick Nolte as his sales manager and best friend, who guiltily harbors a fetish for lingerie; and Albert Finney as Vonnegut’s dark doppelganger, itinerant hack SF writer Kilgore Trout. It was easily last year’s most corrosive Hollywood movie about the American way of life, and it was especially good at showing the claustrophobic desperation of living in a small midwestern town and slowly going insane — a potent literary theme at least since Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Read more
This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). — J.R.
Eric Rohmer’s least typical film, Perceval might also be his best: A wonderful version of Chrétien de Troyes’ 12-century epic poem, set to music, about the adventures of a callow and innocent knight (Fabrice Luchini). Deliberately contrived and theatrical in style and setting -– the perspectives are as flat as in medieval tapestries, the colors bright and vivid — the film is as faithful to its source as possible, given the limited material available about the period.
Luchini, who would later play Octave in Rohmer’s much more characteristic Full Moon in Paris (1984), called Perceval “a scholarly project, touched by insanity.” That is both its charm and its ineffable strangeness, enhanced by the fact that it represents an almost complete departure from the carefully crafted realism of Rohmer’s other films. As Australian critic G.C. Crisp has described this realism, “The cinema is a privileged art form because it faithfully transcribes the beauty of the real world….Any distortion of this, any attempt by man to improve on [God’s handiwork], is indicative of arrogance and verges on the sacreligious.” Read more