Daily Archives: February 7, 2024

Documentary Expressionism: The Films of William Klein

From the English magazine Creative Camera (No. 1, 1990). This is mainly derived from a catalog that was  put together about Klein for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis the previous year, consisting of an essay and interview which will eventually be posted here separately. -– J.R.

One of the limitations of conventional film history, with its subdivisions of schools and movements, is that many interesting filmmakers who are unlucky enough to exist apart from neat categories tend to disappear between the cracks. The case of William Klein, whose film work has received negligible commentary (especially in English), can partially be explained by pointing to the things he is not — or at least not quite.

He is not quite “American” — although he was born in New York City in 1928, grew up near the intersection of 108th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and has devoted a substantial part of his film work to American subjects. He is not quite “French” — although he moved to Paris in 1948 to study painting with Fernand Léger and has been based there ever since. He began making films in the 1950s, around the same time the French New Wave was gaining prominence, and he might provisionally be regarded as a member of the so-called Left Bank group, which included Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnes Varda. Read more

Being (or Seeming to Be) CENTER STAGE

Written for Found Footage during the pandemic.

What does it mean to be, as Stanley Kwan’s title has it, Center Stage (1992)? Insofar as it’s possible to deal with the present moment — that is to say, the present pandemic moment — historically, I think that one of the most dubious and objectionable words repeatedly intoned with gravity by TV news commentators and pundits is in fact the word historic. Given an extra spin in some cases by American exceptionalism, even during a period when our President Donald Trump has opted out of many of our accords and treaties, it is used smugly and even narcissistically yet also quite vaguely to describe us and our current experience, as if to distinguish both as being somehow superior to or on a higher plain than those who preceded us or those who will come afterwards — our supposedly ahistoric (and therefore less important) grandparents and grandchildren and what they had or will have to deal with. This is arguably little more than a futile effort to legitimize and glamorize our inertia and helplessness by asserting that the mere fact that we’re alive during an awful period automatically makes us historical. Simply put, it’s our mute suffering that allegedly brings significance to our troubled times, not our existential decisions. Read more

Two Movies for the Price of None [James Benning’s UTOPIA]

From the Chicago Reader (December 18, 1998). — J.R.

Utopia title


Rating *** A must see

Directed by James Benning

what we see is determined to a large extent by what we hear you can verify this proposition by a simple experiment turn off the sound track of your television set and substitute an arbitrary sound track prerecorded on your tape recorder street sounds music conversation recordings of other television programs you will find that the arbitrary sound track seems to be appropriate and is in fact determining your interpretation of the film track on screen people running for a bus in piccadilly with a sound track of machine-gun fire looks like 1917 petrograde — William S. Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded

Although James Benning’s most recent experimental feature, Utopia, doesn’t literally reproduce Burroughs’s experiment, it does call it to mind. An opening title describes Benning’s effort as a combination of “images…found in the desert landscape from Death Valley south to and crossing the Mexican border” with the entire sound track of the English-language version of Richard Dindo’s 1994 Swiss documentary, Ernesto Che Guevara, the Bolivian Journal — an appropriation that, as the same title explains, was made without permission. (Some years ago the animator George Griffin appropriated the sound track of a Tom & Jerry cartoon for his own short animated film, Flying Fur.) Read more

Pulp Fiction

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 1994). — J.R.


Quentin Tarantino’s second feature (1994), a chronologically scrambled collection of interlocking crime stories, extracts most of its kicks from other movies and TV shows. Despite all its thematic nudges about redemption and second chances its true agenda is the flip side of Forrest Gump: to make the media-savvy viewer the real hero of the story. A wet dream for 14-year-old male closet queens (or, perhaps more accurately, the 14-year-old male closet queen in each of us), this smart-alecky movie sparkles with canny twists and turns. John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, and Harvey Keitel vibrate with high-voltage star power, while Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Maria de Medeiros, Tim Roth, and Amanda Plummer amply fill out the remaining scenery. The overall project is evident: to evict real life and real people from the art film and replace them with generic teases and assorted hommages. Don’t expect any of the life experiences of the old movie sources to leak through; punchy, flamboyant surface is all. R, 154 min. (JR)

pulp fiction dancing Read more